Lukas Reichel impresses Blackhawks teammates, but weight gain needed
“Imagine if he puts on 10 pounds,” Brandon Hagel said about the Blackhawks’ top prospect. “It’s going to be crazy. I’m excited to see where he is in a year.”
Blackhawks wing Brandon Hagel tried to envision a heavier version of top prospect Lukas Reichel while watching him recently.
‘‘He’s just a little stick, but he’s definitely going to get stronger, and it’s going to help his game a ton,’’ Hagel said. ‘‘[With] handling pucks, protecting the puck, he’s so good at it already. Imagine if he puts on 10 pounds. It’s going to be crazy. I’m excited to see where he is in a year. It’s going to be fun to watch.’’
The future is what matters for Reichel — and for the Hawks as an organization.
There was some thought that Reichel, based on his dominance in the American Hockey League this winter, already might be able to make a big impact in the NHL. But his second stint with the Hawks ended Saturday — when he was reassigned to Rockford — the same as his first one did in January. He has zero points in five games now.
Reichel, 19, certainly didn’t look out of place at the United Center, nor was he exploited by or unprepared to face NHL-caliber talent. Interim coach Derek King lauded his defensive awareness and positioning.
He clearly isn’t ready to be a difference-maker yet, however. Considering that, it’s best for him to keep refining and building his game and body while handling big minutes in the minors. He played only 8 minutes, 34 seconds Friday against the Devils, after all.
‘‘You could see a little frustration on his face,’’ King said. ‘‘He’s unsure of himself. But we talked to him. It’s normal. Some guys adapt right away, and [for] other guys it takes a little bit. But we have all the confidence in the world in him, and he’ll be fine.
‘‘I’d like to see him handle the puck a little more. He’s getting rid of it too quick. He doesn’t need to. That’s where he generates his speed, coming through the neutral zone, and that’s where he pushes everybody back and [can] make his plays.’’
The Hawks are trying hard to avoid making the same mistakes with Reichel that they did with center Kirby Dach two years ago, when he arguably was rushed into too much, too soon.
As a result, Dach still is trying to build back his confidence to where it was in 2019. But even he — at the wizened age of 21 — can see how bright Reichel’s future is.
‘‘He’s smart, skilled and makes the right plays,’’ Dach said. ‘‘He’s just young. We all go through it. It sounds weird for me to say that, but it’s just the nature of the game. Once he gets his legs under him, he’ll be fine. He’ll be a great hockey player for a long time.’’
Wing Alex DeBrincat also has been impressed by Reichel and said he thought the teen had been unlucky not to get a point or two.
‘‘He has a lot of speed,’’ DeBrincat said. ‘‘You can see the skill he has with the puck [from] the plays he makes in practice. It’s obviously still early. When you get up to this level, there’s a lot of things you can learn. He’s doing a good job of that. We hope to have him here for a long time.’’
At 6 feet and 170 pounds, Reichel unquestionably will be helped by adding 10 to 20 pounds. That weight gain, however, will take time.
In the meantime, he’ll gain big-game experience during Rockford’s playoff push and likely will enjoy at least one more NHL call-up this spring.
‘‘He’s going to be an unbelievable hockey player,’’ Hagel said. ‘‘He’s going to get a little bit bigger, a little bit thicker. I don’t think anyone has to worry about that. Whatever they’re doing with him, the plan for him, they’re doing a really good job at it.’’