Prospect Lukas Reichel understands Hawks' long-range plan -- one that has worked well for others in the past
Spider-Man, Superman, The Flash and The Incredible Hulk invaded the Allstate Arena on Saturday to watch the Chicago Wolves take on the Rockford IceHogs.
Other crime-solving icons -- most of whom were enthusiastic, energetic kids -- were also in attendance in support of the Wolves' Superhero Night.
When the game went into overtime, the IceHogs -- the AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks -- needed a hero to step up to snap a six-game losing streak. Odds were decent that Lukas Reichel, whom some believe should still be with the Hawks, would don his cape and make a puck disappear into the back of the net.
But the puck has seemed like kryptonite to Reichel since he was sent back to Rockford on Jan. 13, and it was the Wolves who emerged with a 3-2 victory in front of 14,227.
Reichel impressed during OT -- and during parts of regulation as well -- but didn't take a single shot on goal all night. He's now on an eight-game goal-scoring drought and the IceHogs, who snapped a seven-game skid with a shootout victory Tuesday night, are now fifth in the Central Division with a .558 points percentage.
Reichel has had only a taste of the NHL this season, but looked fantastic during a recent call-up that lasted three games. The 20-year-old wasn't thrilled about being demoted, but is trying to keep GM Kyle Davidson's long-range plan in mind.
"Of course no one wants to get sent down," the soft-spoken Reichel said before Saturday's game. "For me it was more like stay positive. I felt good the way I played. It was good to show in the NHL what I can (do). ...
"They have a plan and they stick to it. Got to be patient."
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It's not unusual for players to go through rough patches upon return to the AHL, especially after realizing they can hang with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Max Domi and Philipp Kurashev. Reichel scored his first NHL goal, then assisted on Domi's OT game-winner during the Hawks' 4-3 OT victory over Calgary on Jan. 8.
"He's handled it well for a young kid," said IceHogs interim coach Anders Sorensen, who has been with the Hawks organization since 2014. "You forget that's he's 20 years old."
Defenseman Adam Clendening, a veteran of 482 AHL games, echoed Sorensen's thoughts.
"He's playing in the NHL and he can't have a beer," said Clendening, who was a second-round pick of the Hawks in 2011 and is in his third stint with the IceHogs. "It's tough because you're coming into an organization that's had the likes of the Kanes and the Toews of the world where that's the expectation being drafted that high (17th overall in 2020).
"But there's plenty of time and I think he showed really good flashes up there."
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Clendening's been around long enough to know how beneficial a full season or two in the minors can be for high-end prospects. He recalls battling the likes of Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Gus Nyqvist when the talented trio played for the Grand Rapids Griffins more than a decade ago.
Tatar, who now has 201 NHL goals, played 265 games for the Griffins and spearheaded their charge to the 2013 Calder Cup title by scoring a whopping 16 goals in 24 postseason games. Nyqvist, chosen 24th overall in 2008, and Sheahan were also part of that championship squad.
"It's certainly worked out for those three," Clendening said. "They've been very good players in the NHL for a long time."
Others former Hawks who cut their teeth in the AHL include Duncan Keith (154 games), Corey Crawford (five full seasons) and even Teuvo Teravainen, who played a big role in the Hawks' run to the 2015 Stanley Cup title. Some may forget that Teravainen was in Rockford for 39 games before being promoted.
"There were parts of his game that probably weren't ready at the time," Sorensen said, "but the team up there was so good so it was a little bit easier."
Many of these examples are from a bygone era where teams allowed their prospects to develop in the AHL. For proof, just take a look at those drafted near Reichel in 2020. Five guys have played between 92-131 NHL games; and another three have appeared in 36-46 games.
Davidson, however, is happy to let Reichel grow his game -- and leadership abilities -- on a likely playoff team.
"The AHL is the second-best league we have in hockey," Davidson said in mid-January. "To be able to put some of our prospects in leadership roles ... is extremely valuable and that's something we really want to do again moving forward."
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After the NHL trade deadline passes on March 3 it wouldn't be surprising to see Reichel get a longer look with the Hawks. Then, assuming the IceHogs qualify for the playoffs, he would be reassigned.
In the meantime, he'll keep working on his game so that at this time next year he's working on a successful campaign with the rebuilding Hawks.
As for what we can expect in 3-5 years? That's difficult to forecast, but Clendening believes Reichel certainly has star -- and dare we say superhero -- potential.
"I want to tell you he's gonna be first-line player in the NHL and put up really good numbers," Clendening said. "And I think that he can; he shows it. ... You see that offensive ability where you can't teach most of what he does. ...
"It's just learning away from the puck. It's really hard to learn that when you're so dynamic with it, especially at that level because he's not the only dynamic guy on the ice anymore. ...
"But his ceiling -- you can look as high as you want. If he can put it all together, it's gonna be there."