While technically still a prospect, many, myself included, were hoping by now Lukas Reichel’s game would be NHL ready. Rewind back the clock a year ago at this time and most fans were wondering when this “dynamic” offensive prospect would be given a chance. I mean, he clearly seemed ready with the Rockford IceHogs, right? And after being pulled up to the big club in the 2022–23 season and posting seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 23 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, aside from the appropriate Connor Bedard hype, Reichel was most likely the offensive name on the tip of the tongues of Chicago loyalists.
Few expected the start of the season to go this way for Reichel. Through 13 games, he has two assists to speak of, nothing more, and it is clear he is having trouble generating offensive opportunities. To say it has been disappointing is an understatement and, should this not change after 20 games and his production remain limited, you have to wonder if a ticket back to Rockford will be a conversation for head coach Luke Richardson and general manager Kyle Davidson.
While there is hope that Reichel can turn it around in Chicago whether or not an IceHogs assignment is necessary, Hawks fans also need to consider the possibility that well…Reichel may not work out for them and ultimately not be a key or necessary ingredient for their rebuild. Yeah, I know, “Are you crazy? He’s young, he just needs time!” Valid, and I am not dismissing that, but I am also not dismissing the fact that 17th overall picks in the NHL draft are not necessarily home runs, and if former general manager Stan Bowman’s track record suggests, Reichel may end up being another Bowman draft pick who did not pan out.
First-round picks by Bowman in the years leading up to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft when Reichel was picked include names like Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Henri Jokiharju, Nick Schmaltz and others. Now, by no means are the careers of Dach and Arizona Coyotes regular Schmaltz over and done with, and you cannot call them busts as you may with Boqvist, Beaudin and to a lesser extent Jokiharju, but they are definitely not wearing red and black any longer, and are far removed from “the plan.” In fact, Reichel and Nolan Allan, picked 32nd overall in the 2021 draft, are the only two first-round picks by Bowman still in the Hawks’ organization.
Even if you want to separate Bowman’s dreaded prospect analysis away from Reichel in this conversation, which is fair, if you look back at the previous 10 drafts prior to 2020, only two high-end offensive players, Kyle Connor and Tomas Hertl, were picked at 17th overall. So sure, there is a chance for Reichel to have a successful NHL career, but to suggest he may ultimately be at the level of Connor or Hertl one day seems far-fetched. Hopefully he will not meet a similar fate in a few years of former 17th overall picks Nathan Beaulieu or Joey Hishon…right, who? That said, in the latter half of the first round of an NHL draft, rarely do teams cash out on skilled forwards in that position.
But wait, they got Oliver Moore at 19th overall, should we be worried? No, somehow a top-10 talent like Moore fell to the Hawks, and it was shocking that no other teams took him, but he may still end up as a bottom-six center long term. Hopefully not, and there are years before we will find out. And, when it came to Reichel in the 2020 draft, few, if anybody, had him being picked any higher than 20th, with many feeling he would be a late first-round pick or early second-round pick. For whatever reason, Bowman and then vice-president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley, who had pretty much stopped watching live hockey games of prospects at that point of his tenure, targeted Reichel, and here we are.
It is getting way ahead to label Reichel a bust; that is not what is going on here. He has talent and skill and could have a nice NHL career. He is being auditioned at center, has moved to the wing, back to center and is certainly not on a roster overloaded with talent right now. Though this is not the best chapter for him right now, the full story has yet to be written. Perhaps a spin on a line with Bedard will happen in the near future if Richardson is looking for a spark in Reichel.
With this in mind though, Reichel is still a prospect, the Hawks are full of them, some hit and some will miss. The possibility of Chicago ultimately finding Reichel to be an expendable asset is a real truth in this business.