Blackhawks comfortable allowing Reichel to slowly grow his game
When the Blackhawks selected Kirby Dach third overall in 2019, there were those who believed he was destined to become the franchise's next No. 1 center.
But GM Stan Bowman, under immense pressure to keep the Hawks competitive, failed to take the long view and rushed Dach to the NHL.
The result was an uneven season in which Dach scored 8 goals and added 15 assists. Then came an injury-plagued campaign in 2020-21 where Dach played in just 18 games.
The more prudent approach may have been to let Dach develop for one more season with the Saskatoon Blades, his junior team, as most players need to dominate at a level before receiving a promotion.
The current Hawks regime seems to understand this and that's why Lukas Reichel has spent most of this season cutting his teeth with AHL's Rockford IceHogs. Reichel, selected 17th overall by the Hawks in 2020, has 14 goals and 22 assists in 32 contests for Rockford.
He will play in his second NHL game this season when the Hawks host Arizona at the United Center on Friday.
"There's been lots of good instances where organizations make the guys work and earn their ways up," Hawks coach Luke Richardson said after practice Thursday. "(They) have to work on certain parts of their game so they don't falter and really get exposed at this level."
There's no questioning Reichel's offensive abilities. The 20-year-old scored 22 times in 80 games in Germany's top pro league across two seasons, and he's notched 35 goals in 88 career AHL appearances.
But he checks in at just 170 pounds and has plenty to learn before he can be a consistent contributor for the Hawks.
Reichel, who played 11 games with the Hawks in 2021-22, admitted he was surprised that he didn't make the Hawks out of camp.
"Of course," he said. "The whole summer, I was working hard to make the team. ... But you get stronger from there and try to make it a hard (decision). If I play good in Rockford, they kinda have to call me up. That's what I felt like I did ... and I want to show it here now."
Richardson said it was "an obvious decision" to allow Reichel to grow his game in Rockford.
"He shows some brilliant flashes, but it just doesn't look like he's consistently and physically ready for the NHL -- and to be a centerman especially," Richardson said.
Defense is one area young forwards tend to struggle with at the NHL level. Reichel is no different and there were a few examples Thursday where the youngster could have been more aggressive.
"You're a stick length away from a guy," Richardson said. "We need you to go kill a play defensively just as much as we need you to score some goals here. He knows that it's got to be a two-way game."
"Sometimes it's good to have 50-50 shifts and nothing really happens. I'm always trying to do something cool, and sometimes it works and it's pretty sick. But sometimes it doesn't work and it's a turnover and I (have to) go play D-zone."
Reichel will likely skate on one of the top two lines against the Coyotes, but he will stay on the wing to limit his responsibilities.
The Hawks are also expected to give Brett Seney a chance against Arizona. The 26-year-old forward has 14 goals and 24 assists for Rockford in 32 games. Seney scored 5 goals for New Jersey in 2018-19, but has played in just four NHL games since then.
Jones an all-star:
Defenseman Seth Jones on Thursday was selected for the All-Star Game for the fifth time. The league announced the 32 participants (eight from each division) and details about an expanded fan vote to determine 12 additional all stars (two skaters and one goalie from each division).
Jones has 2 goals and 9 assists in 27 games.
The game will be played at Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Patrick Kane did not practice Thursday and is questionable to play against Arizona on Friday. He is dealing with a lower-body injury that he suffered during the Hawks' 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
"He seemed in a good mood today, but it was just a gym day," said coach Luke Richardson. "He'll be hopefully trying it tomorrow morning and he's (a) maybe. ... So that's good. It's possible for sure."
Andreas Athanasiou (non-COVID illness) also did not practice.