Reichel, who was sent back to the AHL on Sunday as planned, demonstrated his lofty ceiling during his first appearances with the Hawks this week.
True to their word, the Blackhawks sent top prospect Lukas Reichel back to the AHL on Sunday.
Interim coach Derek King had described the Hawks’ plan to give Reichel a two-game taste of the NHL, then let him continue his development playing 20-plus minutes every night in Rockford, a “chance to do it right by him.”
As tempting as it must’ve been to keep the 19-year-old center around longer — even just for Monday’s matchup against the Kraken, which precedes a three-day break — patience and long-term vision ultimately prevailed.
It’s obvious now the Hawks plan to slide the official start of his three-year entry-level contract to 2022-23. That means they can’t play him in more than nine NHL games this season. He has seven games remaining, which will likely be sprinkled into the March and April portions of the schedule.
But it’s also obvious he possesses all the necessary skill, intelligence and moxie to succeed in the NHL right now if allowed. After another few months of ripening and another offseason of strengthening, he could instantly become one of the Hawks’ best forwards when he steps in full-time next season.
His zero points aside, he demonstrated that lofty ceiling as convincingly as he possibly could have this week. King, for one, was certainly impressed.
“I really liked his pace of play,” King said after Thursday’s win. “He can skate, and you could see it. He pushes the ‘D’ back, he pushes everybody back, and he frees up a lot of space for other guys. You see him dishing over to [Patrick] Kane, and you look at Kane when he gets the puck and there’s nobody in his face.
“He was doing a lot — still skating, pushing back their ‘D’ and opening up room — but he looked a lot more comfortable [doing so],” King said after Saturday’s win. “And he took that big hit, so you’re always concerned, but he bounced right back up and got back in the play. I was happy for him, and I was happy to see him in these two games.”
Reichel played 15:55 against the Canadiens and 14:51 against the Ducks. He attempted seven shots himself, five of which were on-goal, and blocked one opponent shot. He won five of 14 faceoffs, a common struggle for rookie centers. The Hawks neither scored nor conceded any goals during his ice time.
Analytically, he posted — at even strength — a 40.9% scoring-chance ratio (nine for, 13 against) and 42.6% expected-goals ratio. His numbers were better when on the ice with his assigned linemates, Kane and Brandon Hagel; they had a 53.3% scoring-chance ratio (eight for, seven against) and 52.4% expected-goals ratio during 22:15 together.
Reichel’s impacts were more visible beyond the statistics. He particularly excelled with offensive zone entries, gliding effortlessly through neutral-zone traps or forcing defensemen to concede the blue line without a contest thanks to his steady, elusive and dangerously explosive-when-needed skating stride.
Once in the zone, he did a good job finding open space to send and receive passes. His wrist-shot release looked quick and accurate, too, although he could’ve used it more than he did. With more experience, he’ll learn he has the skill to hold the puck on his stick longer — he observed already that “sometimes you think you have not so much time, but you have time.”
That comfort level should solidify quickly, too, because he’s such a poised, self-assured person. He said Thursday he “had my confidence the whole game.” Asked later if he was surprised he wasn’t nervous, his answer — “no, that’s just my personality” — was accompanied by a smile the size of Germany.
“I don’t want to put the puck in and go for a change; I want to make plays,” he added. “I know I can, and I just want to show [that].”