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Lukas Reichel’s struggles have been one of the biggest storylines of this season. The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2020 first-round pick got his first crack at a full season in the NHL, and it has not gone great. While he’s played well defensively, his offensive production has been nonexistent all season. He has three goals and nine points in 45 games, a far cry from the point-per-game stretch he had to finish last season.
It would be one thing if Reichel was second on the team in shots and just couldn’t get the puck in the net. We’ve seen Hall of Famers like Marian Hossa go through stretches like that. He is eighth on the team in shots with 60. He hasn’t had a shot on goal in his last three games and didn’t even have a shot attempt in Friday’s overtime win over the New York Islanders.
This is why Reichel found himself on the outside looking in on Sunday morning. With Nick Foligno returning from injury and Ryan Donato recovered from his illness, the 21-year-old forward will be a healthy scratch against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
“I think he’s doing a lot of things we’re asking him to do defensively,” head coach Luke Richardson said. “It’s just the same, confidence offensively, and shooting pucks, and not holding onto them too long, and getting stripped, and being frustrated and making him play defense too much.
Sometimes, he’s just overthinking it. Sometimes, when you take a step back and work on some individual stuff, see some video, and see some other players making some correct decisions but also some incorrect decisions, that sometimes helps you get your game on track.”
This will be the second time Reichel is a healthy scratch. He watched the Dec. 3 loss to the Minnesota Wild from the pressbox and returned to the lineup the next time out. It is doubtful that this will be just a one-game benching this time around.
Richardson added that assistant coach Derek King has been showing Reichel video of the confident version of himself we saw at the end of last season. He needs to be reassured that he has done it at this level and can do it consistently throughout his career.
“I think a lot of times what happens is there’s too many people sometimes in your ear,” Foligno said of the struggling young forward. “Sometimes it’s not as bad as you make it out to be and then other times it’s not as great as you make it out to be when you’re playing well too, right, there’s a lot of flaws in your game. I think Reichs just has to find that confidence within himself and learn that the best way to come out of these things sometimes is through the work that you do, not somebody else coming over to you; it’s the grind that you put yourself through and the mental component of it that really pulls you out. And then, when you do come out, you feel like you’ve gained tools mentally and physically to sustain whatever you’re going to go through.
That’s where I think he’s at right now is: understanding what makes me great. I know I’m here for a reason, and believing it himself, as much as you want to — we believe in him, I think he knows that we all believe in him, we all love him as a guy, and we all believe in him as a player and he’s still doing a lot of great things out there.”
Reichel’s biggest enemy is between his own ears right now. We’ve seen this with young players before and will see it again. Some wonder if a stint in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs is in the cards. We might have reached the point where less hockey is the better option and not more hockey. That approach has seemed to have worked with goaltender Arvid Soderblom, now let’s see if it works for Reichel.
It is still far too early to label Reichel as a bust. He’s 21 and still learning how to be a pro. There is no debate that he is a huge disappointment, but it is foolish to write him off entirely at this point. We have seen him play the way he needs to before, both in the AHL and NHL, so patience is the key to getting him back there.
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