Blackhawks’ prospect Lukas Reichel greeted me with a chuckle in the corridors of the Allstate Arena on Saturday night after the Rockford IceHogs’ overtime win over their I-90 rivals, the Chicago Wolves.
“I felt great,” he said. “I think both games [against Chicago] I played really good. I didn’t shoot the puck that much, but it doesn’t matter, I think the whole team played really well.”
I asked the organization’s top prospect how he was feeling, because it looked like he was a step slow at times on Saturday night. Reichel insisted he was fine, and said that he was happy with his performance in the weekend double-header.
I felt like Reichel was good on Saturday night as well. Still, I left the stadium feeling a bit underwhelmed by the performance. I mean, this is the organization’s top prospect, right? I feel like his performance against an AHL team should have wowed me.
Rockford head coach Anders Sorensen agreed with Reichel, saying that he thought “he was good” on Saturday night and “dynamite” the night prior in Rockford. Sorenson said that he was “really happy with his weekend overall.”
I thought he might be on his game early when he got a golden look on a one-timer against former IceHog Cale Morris, but Morris thwarted the shot by Reichel.
Reichel would get one more shot in the game, in the second period, and finish with no points on the night.
Shortly after the missed scoring opportunity on the offensive side of things, Reichel lost a battle for the puck on the boards with Josh Melnick that led to a Jameison Rees goal seconds later thanks to a nice setup by Malte Stromwall.
Reichel said after the game that the Blackhawks told him that they wanted him to “be a center and to play better in the D-zone,” two things that Reichel feels that he’s taken steps forward in during his 14 games in Rockford this season.
Reichel played on the wing most of the night on Saturday, but when he did get between the dots, he flashed the playmaking ability that has him in such high regard within the organization.
During a 5-on-3 power play for Rockford in the third period, Reichel deked Max Lajoie — who delivered a big hit on Reichel towards the end of the second period — and then blew by Vasili Ponomaryov and Will Lagesson before baiting Cale Morris to his left and flipping a cross net pass to Josiah Slavin for what should have been an easy go-ahead goal, had Slavin not blew a tire on a rough patch of ice (that was worked on for about five minutes by the arena staff after the play).
Reichel also got busy with Jameison Rees by the net after a near goal by Isaak Phillips late in the second period. Reichel’s dust up with Rees was a response to Rees giving it to him a little after the whistle and the hit that Max Lajoie delivered to him seconds earlier.
At the end of the day, Reichel and Sorenson aren’t wrong. Reichel did play a nice game. The kid can play, scoring at a point-per-game pace in Rockford this season with 14 points in 14 games (6 G, 8 A), and he showed flashes on Saturday night.
Still, I want to be wowed by the Blackhawks’ top prospect like he’s playing against inferior competition. We saw it for a week at the Tom Kurvers Showcase just before the preseason, and that’s what I was hoping for this weekend.
The IceHogs ended up winning on Saturday night on a Michal Teply overtime goal, but defenseman Alex Vlasic played as well as anyone in that game. Vlasic was active on both sides of the ice, moved the puck confidently and efficiently on offense and fired off six shots on goal, one of which found the back of the net.
Seeing Vlasic move the puck around the ice with that type of confidence was something that he’s been working on since the summer and something that Anders Sorensen says he’s done a fantastic job of thus far.
“Yeah, I mean I think his progress has been really nice from day one, defensively closing gaps; with the puck he’s making a lot of plays, he’s holding onto it, he’s comfortable. It’s hard to get it off him, because of his size, right? So, yeah, really happy with his progress.”
Vlasic honing his skills on the offensive side of things — especially getting the confidence to shoot the puck more — will go a long way towards him making his way back to Chicago for good at some point.
I would be remiss if I wrapped this up without mentioning Isaak Phillips, who played an excellent game on Saturday, logged two assists, a near goal, and a few big hits needed in a pretty chippy game. Sorensen said that he thought it was Phillips’ best performance of the season.
“I think tonight was his best game. I thought he was clean with the puck, he was simple with moving the puck and effective with the puck, and I thought that his skating was really good, and his gaps were really good. So, very happy with that.”