Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment, but I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking that Blackhawks 2020 first-round draft pick Lukas Reichel should be making his way to the NHL sooner rather than later.
After netting the first hat-trick of his North American professional career on Sunday night for the IceHogs, Reichel leads the team in goals (6) and points (8) through eight AHL games. He was a standout during the summer at the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase and in Blackhawks training camp. He looked like he belonged with the big club during the preseason. He’s been leading the IceHogs as a rookie in the AHL. So how should the Blackhawks navigate his young career and when will he make his way to Chicago for good?
In my preseason predictions post in October, I said that Reichel would make it to the NHL by Christmas and would stay with the Blackhawks for the remainder of the season from then on. There is still a month and a half for that prediction to potentially come true, but is that the best route for the 19-year-old?
Derek King said the Blackhawks are taking a patient approach with Lukas Reichel in Rockford.
"We're sticking to the plan as far as I know. We're gonna let him just keep playing & playing. Let's get another hat trick & let's get another hat trick, then maybe we'll talk about it."
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) November 10, 2021
In the past, under Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks had a reputation for either rushing prospects too fast to the NHL, or holding them down too much. There was very little middle ground where a prospect was pushed just right and came out exactly how the organization had hoped. Also, there was Bowman’s tendency to cut bait with a top prospect early in their career to help Chicago “win now” and in most cases, they lost those deals. In recent memory, Henri Jokiharju and Adam Boqvist were two top prospects in Chicago who many believed should have taken more time in the AHL to develop before being thrust into leading roles with the Blackhawks. While they eventually started to figure things out at the NHL level, both were traded before truly beginning to reach the surface of their potentials.
Of course the outlier to the theory is Alex DeBrincat, whose rookie season was on the brink of heading to a minor-league stint before turning things around mid-way through the season and eventually becoming a star in the NHL.
With Reichel, I get the sense that interim General Manager Kyle Davidson might go the route the Blackhawks did with Teuvo Teräväinen, a fellow European mid-first round draft pick that came into North America with a similar skill-set to Reichel’s.
After being selected 18th-overall by Chicago in the 2012 NHL Draft, Teräväinen spent the next two seasons playing in Finland before making his way to North America. He began the 2014-15 season with the IceHogs, skating in 33 games and tallying 23 points before making his way to the NHL. He took a brief six-game stint in February of 2015 back with Rockford before rejoining the Blackhawks. He skated in 34 NHL games that season with nine points and then 10 points in 18 postseason games en route to helping Chicago win the 2015 Stanley Cup. He played the entire next season in the NHL in 2015-16 before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) November 8, 2021
Hopefully Reichel’s path with the Blackhawks extends further than Teräväinen’s did, but giving him time to prove himself at the AHL level before going up to the NHL this season already seems like the best path. Since the 2021-22 Blackhawks are not as deep a roster as the 2014-15 Blackhawks were, Reichel could do more in a more prominent role than Teräväinen was given to begin. He’d likely earn it too, since already at this stage in his young career, Reichel is willing to play below the goal line and in the corners. He’s not the most physical of players, but the ability to go to those areas and go to the front of the net to make plays is something a player of his age and his experience usually doesn’t do right away.
Like King says, maybe another hat-trick and more discussions will be had, but for now with Reichel continuing down this trajectory for his first season, his time in Rockford shouldn’t be an extended stay.