Lukas Reichel deemed ‘not quite there yet,’ sent to AHL as Blackhawks whittle down roster

Several waves of cuts Tuesday brought the Hawks’ expected opening-night NHL roster into tighter focus. Reichel’s reassignment to Rockford was the most notable transaction.

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Blackhawks prospects Lukas Reichel and Kevin Korchinski celebrate a preseason goal.

Top prospects Lukas Reichel (left) and Kevin Korchinski were among the Blackhawks’ many roster cuts Monday and Tuesday.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Lukas Reichel needed to have an extremely impressive training camp to make the Blackhawks’ initial NHL roster.

Ultimately, Reichel had a good camp, but it wasn’t spectacular enough to change general manager Kyle Davidson’s mind about the best way to handle his top prospect.

Reichel was sent down to the AHL on Tuesday, headlining several large waves of cuts. Davidson and coach Luke Richardson met with him to break the news.

“Kyle said, ‘I’m sure this is not the news you want to hear, but we want you to go down and continue to play,’ ” Richardson relayed. “Instead of a guy like [him] staying here and battling to stay in the lineup in a fourth-line role ... why not go down and be the best center down there?

“[You can] work on your game, get a little harder in 1-on-1 battles, manage the puck and light it up. So when you get a chance here, you’re firing on all cylinders and you’ll show your best. That was the message to him.”

Reichel predictably dominated the two prospect games in early September. He held his own in two preseason appearances, too, including scoring a beautiful, glimpse-of-the-future goal assisted by Kevin Korchinski against the Red Wings last week.

But Richardson thought Reichel’s defensive performance wasn’t as consistent, showing him two clips from that Wings game as examples. In one, Reichel turned the puck over to Dylan Larkin, resulting in a shift spent in the defensive zone. In another, Philipp Kurashev successfully dumped the puck in, leading to an offensive-zone shift and a scoring chance for Reichel.

The hands-on new coach described it as a learning moment for his 20-year-old German center.

“For an NHL-[caliber], elite-skills guy, [he’s] just not quite there yet,” Richardson said. “He had a pretty good attitude in the meeting. He took it really well. I’m pretty sure he knows there’s going to be opportunity here this year.”

Two other factors also help explain Reichel’s AHL assignment. Firstly, winning in Rockford — the IceHogs are built to be one of the AHL’s best teams — will boost Reichel’s confidence, whereas losing in Chicago would not.

Secondly, having Reichel in the NHL could counteract Davidson’s unstated goal of tanking. Reichel may not be flawless yet, but he’s almost certainly one of the Hawks’ 12 best forwards, and his elite puck-carrying and zone-entering abilities would be valuable alongside someone like Patrick Kane. But that could create more goals, more wins and potentially reduce the Hawks’ chances of earning a top-three draft pick.

In any case, Reichel has plenty of company en route to Rockford, including Josiah Slavin, Isaak Phillips and Arvid Soderblom. Korchinski was returned to the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, as well.

Meanwhile, Dylan Sikura, Brett Seney, Luke Philp and Nicolas Beaudin were placed on waivers Tuesday and will be sent down if unclaimed.

Plenty more transactions will be made over the week ahead, including likely placing Boris Katchouk (ankle), Jake McCabe (spine) and Ian Mitchell (wrist) on injured reserve. Conversely, Jujhar Khaira (ankle), Connor Murphy (back) and Caleb Jones (shoulder) are day-to-day and should be ready for the season opener.

It appears Buddy Robinson might be the forward who unexpectedly earns an NHL spot in Katchouk’s stead. The towering 6-6, 232-pound 31-year-old touts a long AHL history but made a career-high 32 NHL appearances for the Ducks last season, tallying six points.

On defense, Swedish import Filip Roos outlasting Phillips means he’s the actual third candidate — in addition to Alec Regula and Alex Vlasic — battling for the two open roster spots.

Richardson mixed up lines in practice Tuesday, notably moving Jonathan Toews and Tyler Johnson next to Kane — and moving Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou elsewhere. The experimentation will continue during the Hawks’ final preseason games: Thursday at the Wild and Saturday at the Blues.

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