How Do We Feel About Lukas Reichel Getting Sent Back to Rockford?

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How Do We Feel About Lukas Reichel Getting Sent Back to Rockford?

Chicago Blackhawks

On Tuesday morning the Blackhawks sent forward Lukas Reichel to Rockford.

I’m just going to sit back and let that sink in for a second. Because, based on what I’m reading on social media, it isn’t easily settling on that reality for many Blackhawks fans.

Reichel, who will play this entire season as a 20-year-old, was the 17th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. He came over and was pretty, pretty good in Rockford last season, posting 57 points in 56 games — an IceHogs rookie record.

Based on what he did last season — a season in which he burned the first year of his entry-level contract by playing in 11 NHL games — many felt it was common sense that he’d get the call up to the big club to start the new year.

Based on what the front office did to the roster over the summer, trading away young players with skill and allowing others to leave via free agency, many felt there was plenty of opportunity for Reichel to get a solid role with the Blackhawks.

Based on what Reichel did in the offseason — putting on some muscle and continuing to work on his game — many felt he had shown the commitment level to get an NHL spot.

Heck, Reichel should think he deserves a roster spot in the NHL.

But he’s headed back to Rockford.

So how do we digest this reality as fans?

There are a couple things to keep in mind here, and these are realities that need to be mitigated — and that won’t be easy for everyone. But here goes…

  • Lukas Reichel is one of the 13 best forwards in the Blackhawks organization. His skill is good enough to have him skating in a top-six role in the NHL because a) he has a lot of high-end skill in his game, and b) the Blackhawks don’t have much top-six skill on their NHL roster to compete with him.
  • Lukas Reichel is not a finished product. When head coach Luke Richardson spoke with the media after practice on Tuesday, he shared part of the conversation he and general manager Kyle Davidson had with Reichel. They pointed to some specific examples of how to approach certain plays and how he can improve in all three zones on the ice. There is still growth to come for a player who, again, is 20 and has one year of professional experience in North America.
  • What is best for the Blackhawks right now — meaning winning games in 2022-23 — might be Lukas Reichel being on the NHL roster. It might not. There are going to be plenty of frustrating situations for any young player trying to make it in the NHL. Hell, the first overall pick in Reichel’s draft class, Alexis Lafrenière, was supposed to be a generational talent and he’s been a bottom-six player for the Rangers in each of his first two seasons. What you don’t want to do is rush a kid who isn’t ready — ask Kirby Dach (and his agent). And right now the Blackhawks would probably be rushing Reichel into a bad situation.
  • What is best for the Blackhawks in the short- and long-term of the organization is Lukas Reichel getting an appropriate number of games to work on every aspect of his game — and be really ready for the NHL when he gets called up for good.

This one is the toughest to handle for some fans. If you read the comments on our Facebook page or replies to our tweets, there is a portion of the fan base who cannot and will not accept the idea that the Blackhawks are not going to be good this season with cause.

Please read this statement: The Blackhawks’ players are not throwing games. They aren’t going to half-ass their game prep and they aren’t going to lose because they don’t care.

But the roster the front office has built is intentionally temporary and intentionally not great. Davidson knows that, if the Blackhawks want to return to the heights they enjoyed a decade ago, they need to inject a lot of high-end talent and skill into the organization. And the easiest and best way to do that is through the draft.

Chicago has a crop of really good, talented defensemen starting to matriculate its way to the NHL level. Guys like Alec Regula and Alex Vlasic and Jakub Galvas and Isaak Phillips — and Ian Mitchell if he hadn’t injured his wrist — are all building blocks for the future on the back end. The Blackhawks do not have a significant number of legitimate, high-end NHL forwards under contract — yet.

Reichel is the first player with high-end skill to start the next generation of Chicago Blackhawks. And, unlike Davidson’s predecessor, he wants to make sure he has a good coach in place to teach his prospects and has the patience to allow players to mature and grow their game to the point they can confidently join the NHL and not look back.

So should we be happy about Reichel heading to Rockford? In a way, yes. With the roster the Blackhawks have and what we’ve seen from Reichel this fall, he could have made the team right away. But they’re staying to their plan and allowing themselves the time to get it right. And we should at least appreciate their willingness to make sure they’re doing everything as an organization to do it right.


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Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab