Lukas Reichel in Rockford or Chicago? His Play Will Make That Decision

Social Navigation

Lukas Reichel in Rockford or Chicago? His Play Will Make That Decision

Chicago Blackhawks

One of the major storylines in training camp is whether or not Lukas Reichel, the Blackhawks’ consensus top prospect, will crack the opening night roster.

Reichel made his NHL debut last season and logged 11 games with the Blackhawks — which burned the first year of his entry-level contract. He picked up just one assist in those 11 appearances, but his offseason maturation showed at the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase last week. He was credited with four helpers while skating circles around Minnesota’s prospects.

Head coach Luke Richardson shed some light on the plan for Reichel in camp regarding what he needs to do to make the roster last week.

“He’s got to earn a spot, I guess,” Richardson said. “Playing better than other people would be the simple answer. I think for him, there’s no point in keeping a guy like that on the fourth line on the wing, and that’s not his strength, so we want to make sure that if he can make the team in a role that’s going to be his strength, and help the team, and benefit him and the organization, I think we will. But that’s probably going to be a little bit of discussion between management and coaches opinion, and how he plays. It’s going to be a combination of all three. 

“The rookie tournament, I’d like to see a guy like that shoot the puck a bit more, but he’s a creative guy and like to make plays, but sometimes I think a shoot first mentality on a guy that’s very gifted, you have to really honor that. So, that’s going to pull everybody together and help other guys later on.”

Many have questioned why the Blackhawks would burn a full year of Reichel’s contract only to have him open the season in Rockford again this year. But general manager Kyle Davidson, under whose eyes those 11 games were played, made it clear that Reichel’s contract status is not going to impact where he plays this season. It’s all about development.

At his end-of-season press conference at the end of last year, Davidson made it clear that the organization is not going to rush prospects any more (refreshing, right?). When we pair Davidson’s strong stance on development being appropriate in length and Richardson’s comments about winning a roster spot, it might feel like Reichel has a lot of work to do to secure that spot with the NHL club in a couple weeks.

After Saturday’s practice at Fifth Third Arena, I asked Reichel if there have been any discussions between him and the coaching staff regarding what they want to see from him in order for him to make the opening night roster.

“No, I think it’s just for me to get through camp, and we’ll see,” he said. “I take it day by day.”

Reichel echoed what the other young players in camp that we’ve spoken to said regarding their future beyond the next couple of weeks. Across the board they have said Richardson and his staff are urging the kids to play hard and learn the new systems.

“He wants us to compete, and play a quick and fast game — the new hockey,” Reichel said. “I think there are some good players here who can do that on the ice. Things should be good.”

Those systems, as we’ve discussed, are centered around fast-paced hockey on both sides of the ice and creating offense off of defense. Richardson wants the Blackhawks to step into the new-age style of hockey and beat their opponents with speed.

When Richardson was introduced, both Davidson and Richardson said they spent time watching the Tampa Bay Lighting and Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final. Their shared vision of the Blackhawks playing that way went a long way in Richardson getting the job in Chicago.

Reichel told me Richardson and his staff have made watching video of that series part of their meetings before practice, and Reichel likes the style of play that the team is implementing.

“I think it’s how we should play,” Reichel said. “We’ve watched a lot of video from the playoffs from the teams like Colorado and Tampa. I think those are the best two teams, and we’re watching the video learning from them, and maybe we can bring that to our game.”

Whether or not Reichel will be a part of the early stages of this transition at the NHL level is still to be seen, but Reichel says that he’s worked hard this summer to put on weight and muscle while still maintaining his quickness on the ice that makes him a perfect fit for the new systems in Chicago.

“I think I spent a lot of time in the summer to improve, and now I’m showing at practice what I can do. One thing was [to] gain more weight and muscle so that I feel more comfortable in the corners, stronger in the corners through contact, and win more puck battles. I feel really good on the ice right now, and it’s getting better and better.”

While Reichel does indeed look bigger and stronger in camp, he’s got the deck stacked against him right now when it comes to making the opening night roster. With Richardson establishing that keeping a guy like Reichel in Chicago just to play him in a role that they don’t see being his long-term home doesn’t fit their plans, and Reichel currently buried in the second group at practice that features none of the guys that are legitimate candidates to earn top-six spots, I get the feeling that he’ll be heading to Rockford at some point.

Richardson has already confirmed that Patrick Kane and Max Domi will be two-thirds of one of his top lines. Taylor Raddysh has been getting the bulk of the reps with those two. Meanwhile, Jonathan Toews is centering the other line with guys like Colin Blackwell and Tyler Johnson getting the lion’s share of the reps together through the first week. On Saturday, Richardson indicated that he likes the idea of a fast checking line that includes Andreas Athanasiou and Sam Lafferty, who may see more action at the dot this year.

Reichel seems to be the odd man out of the top-six, placing him into the type of role the Blackhawks have said they want to avoid. However, Reichel said he’s ready to take on any role the coaching staff gives him.

“I feel more comfortable up the middle, but I played right wing last year,” Reichel said of his brief NHL experience last spring. “For me, I feel more comfortable in the middle, but whatever coach needs me to do, I’m doing it.”

But unless he wows them in the early portion of the preseason schedule enough to earn him some third-line center consideration, he’ll likely be accepting a role from Anders Sorensen and his staff and Rockford for the immediate future.

Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.