Without a Stanley Cup Playoff spot for which to contend, plus the looming possibility of losing a number of players at the March 21 Trade Deadline, the Blackhawks could soon get a good look at top prospect Lukas Reichel in the latter-half of this NHL season. Though that’s not necessarily a lock. Reichel is in a peculiar spot as a rookie, but also the top prospect in the Blackhawks’ system.
The question is: Does Chicago play him the rest of the way-out in the NHL, using the first year of his entry-level contract, or do they keep him under the ten-game usage marker and have the first year of his entry-level deal “slide” a year, making him a restricted free agent in the summer of 2025, instead of 2024?
So far, he has played in four NHL games, averaging 15:35 minutes per game and has yet to record his first NHL point. But the role that Reichel is playing in the lineup in the top-six forwards group is allowing for his game away from point-production to begin to develop at the NHL level. Whether or not that will be a short-term or long-term plan is still unclear, even to interim head coach Derek King.
Derek King on whether the Blackhawks still plan to keep Reichel under 10 games to slide his contract a year:
"I'm not sure of with that… 10 games, 20 games, whatever, it's more just letting [us] see where he's at and [letting him] play some games and get comfortable."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 24, 2022
Derek King says Lukas is “doing a lot of good things,” the results aren’t there yet.
Then he made a joke about Reichel being a “souvenir” for a fan after taking a big hit. pic.twitter.com/9dhCENklCN
— Phillip Thompson (@_phil_thompson) February 24, 2022
The development plan for Reichel is a key part of the future of the Blackhawks organization.
Previously, under the Stan Bowman front office, top Blackhawks prospects were either buried in their development or thrown into an NHL role too early and left to sink or swim. While still trying to find their next GM, the Blackhawks’ plan for prospects should be the long-game, not the short-term. That is unless it is undeniable that the player belongs in the NHL.
Reichel isn’t exactly there yet, but he has shown that he can play in the league in a small sample-size. He has definitely proved that he can hang professionally in North America as he leads the AHL Rockford IceHogs in goals (14) and points (33) this season through his first 33 AHL games played.
There’s financial reasons to have Reichel’s contract slide, but the flip-side of having his deal slide could be costly in the long-run. Do you get to his second contract faster and potentially cheaper, or do you wait for other deals to expire/get done before addressing Reichel’s second deal, risking him developing into a more expensive player three years from now, rather than two?
Selfishly, I want to see Reichel play the rest of the season in the NHL. But I also see the value in him staying under ten NHL games played and playing the majority of the rest of the season with the Rockford IceHogs and helping them in their Calder Cup Playoff push. It’s a situation where there really is no right or wrong answer, it’s just a decision has to be made and a path has to be clear, and we just need to be able to get on board with it. Seems like a bad time to have an interim head coach, an interim GM, and an on-going GM search with the time before a key trade deadline slowly ticking away, eh?