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It’s been a difficult year for the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks, and maybe even more difficult for their fans. With the team losing by design, losses were expected. The trades of Patrick Kane, Max Domi, Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty and Jack Johnson removed many of the players that made the season somewhat palatable. Since the deadline has passed, the Hawks have gone 3-11-1, including eight consecutive losses, but there’s been one player who has kept the end of this season exciting and watchable…Lukas Reichel.
Reichel, drafted 17th overall in the 2020 draft, didn’t experience the immediate success Blackhawks fans had come to expect from higher draft picks. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat experienced immediate success. Kirby Dach, drafted third overall in 2019, came to the NHL right away. With Reichel, the jump didn’t happen as quickly, and the organization’s patience is paying off.
After putting up one assist in 11 games with the Blackhawks in 2021-22, Reichel, somewhat unexpectedly, started this season in Rockford with the IceHogs, where he dominated. After two brief call-ups earlier this season, Reichel is finally on the roster full-time. During this current 17-game stretch*, the longest call-up of his NHL career, Reichel has looked like a different player. He has 10 points (4G – 6A) in those games, and is playing at a 48-point pace if extrapolated over an 82-game season. Those numbers would have him in the Calder Trophy conversation with Seattle’s Matty Beniers and Anaheim’s Mason McTavish.
Reichel’s offensive ability is apparent. He’s fast, has great hands, and can easily maneuver between defenders, so why didn’t the goals and assists come sooner? My main concern (if you can call it that) with Reichel early-on was his decision-making. He struggled to realize that plays he could make in the AHL and in Germany wouldn’t work in the NHL. He also had obvious shortcomings in his defensive game, and while it would have been really easy for GM Kyle Davidson to start the season with Reichel in Chicago and live with the growing pains, he allowed him to develop at the AHL level, and it has paid off.
What we’ve seen in the last seventeen games is a complete player. Reichel will never be Patrice Bergeron defensively, but he’s shown growth and understanding in all zones, and Luke Richardson has noticed.
After Thursday’s loss to the Blues, Richardson talked about Reichel’s growth. “He’s still learning. We saw some clips today about looking when to strike and when not to strike, and I could see [that growth] already. The longer he’s here…the more he understands that…the better he’ll get.”
Honestly, you could go through any postgame video of Richardson and find him saying something similar about Reichel’s game, and he’s getting the message. He’s played the best hockey of his young career and looks better and more dangerous every game.
“He’s been very explosive for us,” Richardson said after the loss to the Canucks. “He’s not afraid of going to those hard areas [around the net]. He’s just going to get bigger and stronger and be more dominant when he does that. He’s doing the right things. He’s got lots of intelligence. He sees things out there. He’s got to see danger, too and put pucks behind the other team.”
Richardson’s tone has changed around Reichel as the season has gone on. He’s seeing the growth he wants to see and is seeing a player respond to coaching. Reichel has been awarded with the opportunity to finish out the regular season in Chicago before re-joining the IceHogs for their playoff run. Those will likely be the last games he ever plays in Rockford.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, April 4 @ Calgary Flames
8:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The Flames should be better than they are. I had such high hopes for them and they’ve annoyed me all season. That said, with a 6-2-2 record over their last 10 games, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot and have a roster #BuiltForThePlayoffs. While all of the Flames offensive stars have underperformed, their biggest issue has been in goal. Jacob Markstrom, once considered one of the league’s upper-tier tenders, has been flat out bad this season. Last season, he was 37-15-9 with a 2.22 goals against, a .922 save percentage and had nine shutouts. This season, he’s 22-20-10 with a 2.98 goals against, a .890 save percentage with one shutout.
Thursday, April 6 @ Vancouver Canucks
9:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
For all of the offense on this Vancouver team, you figure they’d be better than they are. Elisa Pettersson is approaching the 100-point mark for the first time in his career. JT Miller and Quinn Hughes are scoring over a point per game. However, they’re bottom ten in nearly every important defensive category, including the league’s worst penalty kill. Their goaltending has been pretty brutal, as well. Thatcher Demko, Collin Delia and Spencer Martin have shared the net this year. None of them have a save percentage over 90%. None of them have a goals against average below Delia’s team leading 3.26. Yikes.
Saturday, April 8 @ Seattle Kraken
9:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The Kraken have a firm grasp on the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, with 92 points. They’ve been fun to watch this season. Rookie and future superstar Matty Beniers is a shoo-in for the Calder Trophy and is their player to watch. What the Kraken lack in superstar talent (for now) they make up for in depth. The Blackhawks leading scorer is Tyler Raddysh. He has 37 points in 36 games. That would be good for ninth on the Kraken.
*Stats have been updated to reflect Tuesday’s win over Calgary.
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