Blackhawks won’t rush top prospect Lukas Reichel despite prolific AHL start
Reichel, with six goals and three assists through 10 games, headlines the list of NHL-relevant players on the Rockford IceHogs this season.
When the Blackhawks sent top prospect Lukas Reichel to Rockford of the American Hockey League at the end of training camp, they did so hoping he would be able to adjust to the North American game while handling a huge first-line role.
And although virtually everything around Reichel has changed in the time since, he is doing exactly that.
Through 10 games with the IceHogs, Reichel has a team-leading six goals — including a hat trick Nov. 7 — and three assists while centering the top line.
‘‘He’s got some attributes that you can’t really teach,’’ IceHogs interim coach Anders Sorensen said Tuesday. ‘‘His game is maturing defensively . . . and his reads offensively are getting better, in terms of his comfortableness hanging on to pucks.’’
The IceHogs’ roster is among the youngest in the AHL, so a winning record isn’t likely this season. They’re 3-6-1 at the moment, but many of their notable prospects — headlined by Reichel — are playing well.
Reichel has a major advocate in Chicago now in Hawks interim coach Derek King, whose whole coaching career is built on prospect development. But King and the Hawks still plan to be patient with Reichel, given that he won’t turn 20 until May.
‘‘We’re going to let him just keep playing and playing,’’ King said recently. ‘‘Let’s get another hat trick and . . . another hat trick. Then maybe we’ll talk about [a call-up].’’
Reichel also has a chance to play for Germany in — and gain valuable experience from — two major international events this winter: the world junior championships, then the Olympics. Sorensen mentioned both as possibilities, indicating the Hawks likely would allow him to attend.
‘‘He’s got a lot of things going on, so for him to be in the same spot here for a little bit and get settled is probably a good thing right now,’’ Sorensen said. ‘‘But sooner or later, you’ll probably see him up there [in the NHL].’’
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Wing Alex Nylander, the other IceHogs forward worth monitoring closest from an NHL perspective, has four goals and one assist in 10 games while trying to find his rhythm.
‘‘He did have some rust early on, for sure,’’ Sorensen said. ‘‘The last three or four games have been some of his better games. He’s trending the right way. The biggest thing for him is to keep moving his feet, keep competing, and he’ll be fine.’’
Reichel and Nylander frequently have played alongside 29-year-old veteran Brett Connolly, whom Sorensen praised for keeping a positive attitude despite his AHL assignment.
‘‘[Connolly has] been really valuable for the younger players, in terms of [showing them] how he plays and competes,’’ Sorensen said. ‘‘But also for us as a coaching staff, chatting with him about certain things has been very helpful.’’
The Hawks have the cap space necessary to recall Connolly and might consider it eventually, given that he leads the IceHogs with 10 points (four goals, six assists).
Rookie forward Josiah Slavin might be worth a look sometime, too. He has three goals and five assists.
Sorensen’s most difficult task has been juggling the three goalies — Arvid Soderblom, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia — the Hawks stuck in Rockford.
Delia is returning from a COVID-19 absence, Sorensen said. Soderblom, a 22-year-old prospect, has been given priority in the rotation and also has played the best, with a .917 save percentage in five starts.
‘‘Arvid has had a really good start to his North American career,’’ Sorensen said. ‘‘He’s been really poised. He’s a big kid. He reads the play well.’’