Lukas Reichel was on the outside looking in when the Chicago Blackhawks lost to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon. The 21-year-old forward has just two goals and six points in 22 games this season, with no goals at 5v5. To say the 2020 first-round pick has been a disappointment this season would be an understatement, considering we’ve seen him produce at a high level in the NHL.
Last spring, Reichel was recalled by the Blackhawks and closed the season on a high note. He had four goals and eight points in his final eight games of the season. He played so well that I excitedly declared he would lead the team in scoring for the 2023-24 season. Yes, this was before the team drafted Connor Bedard, but nobody expected him to be this ineffective through a quarter of the season.
“It’s disappointing,” Reichel said of being a healthy scratch. “I know I’ve got to be better and play my game right now. It’s a good wake-up call. I’ve got to work hard and try to be better.”
Reichel will be back in the lineup Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators, but not in the top six, where he has spent the entire season. He will skate on the fourth line with Ryan Donato and MacKenzie Entwistle. This isn’t exactly the ideal line for Reichel, but he hasn’t been able to produce in the top six, even with an extended run with Bedard and Philipp Kurashev.
“Everyone has to check in this league,” head coach Luke Richardson said of his decision. “You have to check forward and back. Is this the style of line he’d fit in the long term? Probably, no. But he’s got to show some determination and get into some battles to win some pucks. This is a good start for him. Our so-called fourth line has been really good for us lately. We’re looking for him to add some speed on the forecheck and be that determined player.”
Richardson admitted that Reichel “didn’t seem himself” during the recent losses to the Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets. He said the young forward wasn’t visibly frustrated but down on himself.
“He needs to reevaluate his game,” said Richardson. “I think he needed to take a step back and look at it. We had a good chat this morning about him just coming to work tonight and not worrying about where he is in the lineup. He needs to work his way up. He’ll get a chance on the power play. He had a good shot this morning in the power-play drills, and that’s what he’ll have to do tonight. He knows that if he can get his game and skating going, he’ll be rewarded when there’s an opportunity.”
Richardson added that sitting out of Sunday’s game was not a punishment but rather a chance for Reichel to evaluate himself. He said the coaching staff gave Reichel their opinion, and he gave them some honest feedback. He asked him this morning if he was ready to draw back in tonight and was told that he was ready.
“It might not be perfect,” Richardson told Reichel. “You might not get three goals tonight, but let’s see some determination and that skating ability. He seems determined to do that tonight.”
Determination was the buzzword for Tuesday’s media scrum. Richardson said he doesn’t just want to tell players what to do. He wants Reichel and everyone else to tell him they want it.
“That’s him holding himself accountable instead of me holding him accountable,” he said. “That’s important for players to understand. We’re here to implement a system that we think our team can live up to and be successful at. The players need to take the onus on themselves. We control the ice time, obviously, but really, they do that in their play. It’s good for the players to speak up and say they’re determined.”
Reichel got the message loud and clear. He said he was shocked at first, but after talking to the coaching staff, he knows what to do to succeed.
“It’s a different game up there; it looks so easy,” he said. “I have to play the right way. Play good defensively. Make plays in the offensive zone.”
Richardson has shown a ton of patience with Reichel and given him plenty of shots to get right in a top-six role. Now it’s time for him to start over and work his way back to being the player we saw last spring.
“We’re not expecting him to do everything by himself,” Richardson said. “He needs to play within the team system, and when it’s his chance, shoot. Just like the other guys, they have to take that shot. We can’t be looking for the extra pass, the perfect play, or a cute stickhandle and saucer pass. That doesn’t really work in this league, especially when you’re not moving. So, for him to be moving, skating, and shooting, that will lead to some offense no matter where he’s playing.”
Getting Reichel going offensively would be a massive addition to this team. It would take a ton of pressure off Bedard, who has had to do everything on offense the past few weeks.
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