Ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Calgary Flames on Sunday night, Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson had a strong statement for up-and-coming prospect Lukas Reichel before his second NHL game of the season.
“You’ll see tonight if he’s self-driven or not.”
Talking about young players having an inner-drive, Richardson said that he is still getting to know Reichel as a player and how he responds to having opportunities to show that he belongs in the NHL. “Some guys are just driven and you never have to say anything, but I’m not sure where he’s at yet, I don’t know him well enough.”
Reichel was selected by the Blackhawks in the 2020 NHL Draft 17th overall. He’s played 88 AHL games in the past two seasons with the Rockford IceHogs, tallying 35 goals and 93 points in his AHL career. He ranks fifth in the AHL this season in points with 36 points in 32 games. It’s clear that his game has developed to a point where there may not be much more for him to learn at that level.
In his NHL career, spanning the past two seasons, Reichel has made 13 appearances with the Blackhawks, recording just one (secondary) assist last season in a game on April 14, 2022 against the Nashville Predators. He made his Blackhawks debut for the 2022-23 season earlier this year in a one-game appearance on short-notice against the New Jersey Devils, flying into New Jersey the day of the game after playing the night before for the IceHogs.
“You have to make sure you don’t take the foot off the gas,” Richardson said about Reichel’s confidence after a success outing on Friday night. “Why were you successful? You have to push to make sure you are consistent at it. It’s one thing to get another opportunity, but you don’t want to blow that opportunity.”
Tonight will be Reichel’s first opportunity to play in consecutive NHL games this season after having what Richardson called his best game of his young NHL career on Friday night in a win against the Arizona Coyotes. “I’m trying to play as many games as I can in the NHL,” Reichel said on Sunday morning about playing in back-to-back games. “Every game you get that experience, even if you don’t play well, you try to focus on what you can do better.”
On CHGO Blackhawks, we have continued to stress the need for a prospect like Reichel to be told he’s an NHL player, be treated like an NHL player, and be given the opportunity to play as an NHL as much as possible as he reaches the next step of his development. Last season, his longest stretch of games played came at the end of the year in April when he played in six-straight games. The Blackhawks front office stressed before the season that when Reichel was going to be called up this season, whenever it happened, he was going to be up with the big club for good.
Clearly that didn’t happen.
So now, while there is an opportunity to play in a top-six forward role, Reichel is being treated like the NHL prospect he has shown he is. With Patrick Kane out of the lineup due to a minor knee injury, Reichel played on the left wing of the top line for the Blackhawks with Philipp Kurashev on his opposite wing and Max Domi at center. The line had chemistry right away and Reichel provided a few scoring chances.
While Reichel has played primarily at center in his young career in Germany and in the AHL, he’ll likely end up as a wing in the NHL. He will once again be on the wing on Sunday night with Domi and Kurashev, same as he was on Friday night. He fits better as a wing, both stylistically and physically. “I can focus more on offense, rather than have to think more about things defensively as a center.” Reichel said of his comfort-level as a winger.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Domi line finished Friday night’s game with a team-best 69.57% Corsi-For percentage with 16 shot attempts-for and just seven shot attempts-against at 5v5. They also had a 0.49 Expected Goals rate at 5v5 on Friday night, which was also a team-high. Individually, Reichel was on the ice at 5v5 for 20 shot attempts-for and 11 against for a 64.52% Corsi-For percentage and had a 0.27 Individual Expected Goals rate on the night, the third-best on the team behind Andreas Athanasiou (0.28) and Max Domi (0.34).
“Had a good day, I guess.,” Reichel said of his performance Friday night. “Domi and Kurshey (Kurashev), feel like we created something good every shift.”
The Calgary Flames will provide a step up in competition for both Reichel and the Blackhawks than the Arizona Coyotes did, so Sunday will be another litmus test to see where Reichel is in his development. He has been tearing up the AHL this year, and after a wonky call-up in December, he has an opportunity to translate that confidence and play-style from the AHL to his NHL game. If/When he does that, you can bet that Reichel will be making a more permanent stay in Chicago.