We were already excited for Blackhawks rookie Lukas Reichel this season, but now, the excitement grows: After his first 20 games with the Rockford IceHogs (also his first 20 games played professionally in North America), Reichel has been called-up to the NHL and placed on Chicago’s Taxi Squad ahead of Thursday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
The plan for Reichel is to make his NHL debut in that game against Montreal at the United Center. But it won’t be the first of many games for the 2020 first-round pick this season as interim head coach Derek King explained following today’s practice.
Derek King said Lukas Reichel will likely play a few NHL games then head back to Rockford to continue his development.
That’s the right call. #Blackhawks
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) January 12, 2022
King called the development plan for the 19-year-old a “marathon” and not a “sprint.” Which, when thinking logically, is the right plan for the former 17th-overall pick. Reichel has been great with the IceHogs this season, leading the team in both goals (11) and points (20). He’s been one of the top rookies in the AHL this season overall, currently tied for the lead in goals, fifth in points, and is one of seven players scoring at a point-per-game pace or better among active rookies.
In fact, after recording three goals and three assists this past weekend, he was named the AHL’s Player of the Week.
Reichel is not like most prospects, though.
Before coming to North America this season, Reichel played in the German DEL league with Eisbären Berlin for the past two seasons, helping them win the DEL Championship this past season. In his two professional seasons, Reichel tallied 22 goals and 51 points in 80 games played. Having already played two full seasons against men makes Reichel’s development feel fast-tracked, compared to if he were a teenager playing against other teens.
The plan, however, is to have him play a few games in Chicago and then head back to Rockford. It might be one or two games at a time and we might see him go back and forth two or three times before the NHL season is over. If he plays nine NHL games or less, the Blackhawks will have Reichel’s rookie deal “slide” another season, rather than burning the entire first year of his entry-level contract by playing more than nine games.
It’s a fiscally responsible move for Chicago to go that route, allowing for some buffer between when Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s current contracts end (summer 2023) and they’ll need extensions, as well as the period where they will have to give Alex DeBrincat an extension.
The Blackhawks have the long-game in mind for Reichel and his development. He’s not going to come into the lineup and magically make the Blackhawks contenders this season, but he should be able to jump into the lineup and make an impact offensively for a team that lacks so much of it. Chicago is going to give him the best chance possible to generate offense right out of the gate, too.
Blackhawks lines in practice, featuring first-line Reichel:
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 12, 2022
In his first Blackhawks practice since training camp, Reichel was on the top-line centering Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane. We’ll see what the lines and pairings look like for tomorrow’s morning skate, but if they stay the same heading into tomorrow night’s game, Reichel might be put into one of the best scenarios for an NHL debut that a Blackhawks rookie has seen in a long time.
In Rockford, Reichel has been the top center virtually all season. For an organization that lacks depth at the center position, maybe, just maybe, Reichel could develop into the next top pivot the Blackhawks have been starved for since drafting Jonathan Toews.
Patrick Kane on Lukas Reichel: "Seems like he has that ability to play with a lot of speed up the middle, which I’ve always enjoyed in my career. Has the ability to make a lot of plays, too. Looking forward to the opportunity of playing with him, trying to help him along."
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) January 12, 2022
Having the early approval of Patrick Kane is a good way to get your NHL career started.
There is a lot to be excited about with Reichel and as the top prospect in the Blackhawks organization, he has a lot on his shoulders. While he may not be the “savior” prospect of the future, he’s very likely going to be a good player who can help push the organization into the future and be a building-block for their path back to Stanley Cup contention. It’s good to be exited, it’s good to have high hopes, it’s best to understand that his development is a project that is not yet completed.