Blackhawks Bytes: Reichel, King, Blackwell, Toews

It’s August and time for another edition of Blackhawks Bytes! We’ve been in the dog days of the offseason for quite some time now, but the end is near and a new hockey campaign awaits. The Chicago Blackhawks‘ training camp and preseason is just around the corner. Many are approaching this coming season with trepidation; all signs point toward a rough year for this rebuilding team. But the show must go on, and the diehards are excited to see what awaits regardless of low expectations.

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With that in mind, let’s visit some of the latest quotes and quips surrounding the team this past month.

Reichel Relishes an NHL Role

One of the biggest storylines headed into this 2022-23 campaign is whether top prospect Lukas Reichel will make the team or spend more time developing with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. He suited up for 11 games last season, registering just one assist while averaging 13:12 minutes of ice time. Reichel showed the potential of a top draft pick (17th overall in the 2020 Draft), but just didn’t seem quite ready for the NHL. One of his biggest issues was simply getting knocked off the puck too easily. But one must remember he’s only 20 years old, and a mere 170 pounds.

Lukas Reichel Chicago Blackhawks
Lukas Reichel got a taste of the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks this past season. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In a recent interview with Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, Reichel talks about gaining strength and weight to better compete in the big leagues. In the article, the German native indicated he now weighs in at closer to 185 pounds. But the idea is also to not lose his quickness and agility on the ice. There’s always a fine balance that needs to be found.

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What’s really intriguing is Reichel’s attitude towards his situation, and how this fits into the rebuild. Says Reichel,

It was my goal last season, too, but definitely this season, I want to play in the NHL the whole season. It’s definitely exciting. All the young players right now in Chicago, we all have a great chance to make the team and get some more minutes and be part of the rebuild.

(from ‘Blackhawks’ Lukas Reichel building up strength, weight through summer training’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 8/6/22)

Most players, coaches, fans and management alike certainly don’t relish a rebuild. It’s all about the pain one must endure before the team can be contenders again. But it’s a whole different story for the prospects. This is their chance to prove themselves. It’s also an opportunity to get quality experience and further development when they otherwise might not.

King on Staying With Blackhawks

We’ve already heard plenty about how new head coach Luke Richardson is expected to be a huge asset when it comes to the development of the above-mentioned Reichel and many other young players. But former head coach Derek King has also been retained to continue with the organization, now as an assistant coach.

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King recently discussed how this unfolded.

This was a lay-up. Luke came to me and I felt real comfortable with it, so I said ‘yeah, I’m in…I’ve had great talks with Luke. A great pro and a good person. I enjoyed having our conversations. The fact they thought of bringing me back as an assistant, I thought that was really nice of them. When he did talk to me, I jumped all over it.

Finally, King unveiled his intentions, and what he feels he has to offer the team.

This is a great fit. I want to be part of this rebuild, and I want to work with these kids, and I know a lot of them, so I can help.

I agree that King can help. Let’s face it; he took a team that was lost under the leadership of Jeremy Colliton and really turned things around. He provided a breath of fresh air, a new start and a new attitude after a very frustrating beginning to the 2021-22 campaign. True, many would argue King might not have what it takes to be a permanent NHL head coach. But the fact that management and Richardson saw him as an asset speaks volumes.

Derek King Chicago Blackhawks
Derek King will now be an assistant coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

King has something to offer. Kudos to everyone for putting their egos aside and accepting that offer. We shall see where it takes them, but King will now have a chance to impact this team, and the rebuild, on a different level.

Blackwell a Swiss Army Knife

Moving on to the free agent aspect of the rebuild. Colin Blackwell, most recently with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was signed by the Blackhawks on the first day of free agency (July 13th). The 29-year-old brings an inconsistent history to the Blackhawks. But each new contract is another chance for success.

In a feature story, again with Pope of the Sun-Times, Blackwell addressed how he thought his hockey career might have been over in college. He dealt with ongoing concussion issues while playing for Harvard and missed most of his junior and senior year with the team. Because of his lingering symptoms, the Massachusetts native was forced to focus more on just trying to be his old self rather than playing hockey. (From ‘Colin Blackwell’s contract with Blackhawks is the latest height in journey from hockey’s brink’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 8/20/22)

Colin Blackwell Toronto Maple Leafs
Colin Blackwell played most recently with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

But even so, the game never truly subsides when this is one’s passion. Blackwell had a political science professor at the school who asked him after a lecture whether he considered himself left wing or right wing. His response, “I’ve always been a natural center.’’

Well, there you have it! Political issues aside, Blackwell has always considered himself as a center on the ice. But as his career has progressed he’s adapted according to what’s been needed of him. Here’s more from Blackwell on his adaptation.

Versatility gave me my opportunity. [I can be] whatever the staff needs, whether it’s left wing, right wing or center. . . . I’ve played a checking role; I’ve played a defensive role; I’ve played a more offensive role; I’ve had some power-play and penalty-kill time. Over the years, I’ve been [not only] a Swiss Army knife but a chameleon, as well, blending into different players and trying to read off them. It’s just the way I play the game.

Chameleon, Swiss Army knife, jack of all trades. Let’s see what role Blackwell ends up playing with the Blackhawks.

Toews Changes Thought Process

We’ve heard from a prospect, a coach and a new member of the Blackhawks. But let’s conclude today with some thoughts from the organization’s longtime captain and veteran player, Jonathan Toews. There’s been a lot of controversy around Toews of late, mostly because he outwardly expressed his frustration when the Blackhawks recently said goodbye to some integral players.

Related – Toews’ Comments Can Have Negative Repercussions for Blackhawks

But in Toews’ most recent interview with Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, he puts a slightly different spin on things. Let’s give Toews the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he’s had some time to mull over his situation and come to terms with it. Here’s the latest from Toews.

When we traded Hags, and then Cat and Kirby, reality really set in that, OK, this is where we’re at, and they’ve got to really focus on the future. And it’s just unfortunate that it’s come to that. But it is what it is. So much of that stuff has been out of my control for quite some time, and it’s a weird place to be in as a captain. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, what should be your concern and what shouldn’t be, aside from just playing your game. So my head is here, thinking about what’s right in front of me, what the next day or the next game or the next challenge is. These last few years have taught me to be in the moment and cut out the things that I really can’t control, and to just focus my energy on what I can control so I can really enjoy the game from there.

(from ‘Jonathan Toews on his Blackhawks future and beyond: Trade, free agent, retirement or rebuild?’, The AthleticCHI – 7/26/22)

Ah, it’s really a lesson for all of us in dealing with our lives, isn’t it? “So my head is here, thinking about what’s right in front of me, what the next day or the next game or the next challenge is.” Toews spent so much time as the leader of an elite team; one that raised the Stanley Cup three times. Even since 2015, it was always about maybe, just maybe, the team was one or two players away from making another run.

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews is trying to adapt to his new situation with the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But under this new management reality has really set in. It’s a re-set, and Toews either embraces it or he doesn’t. I think it’s taken him some time to evaluate the situation, as well as determine if he wants to be a part of it. We do know he’s excited about working with new head coach, Luke Richardson. “I’m really excited to have a chance to play for Luke,” says Toews.

I believe Toews has been forced to re-evaluate his thought process. To not force these big decisions, but just to take it day by day.

…I can just be in the moment. I learned to really love the game again and find the joy in it, and to play with energy, play with passion, play at a high level. I feel like I still have so much to give to this team and to the game, and I’m excited to show that not only to myself, but to everybody. I don’t feel any pressure to play a certain amount of time, though. I think I’ll know when I know.  

It sounds like Toews is ready to tackle a new season with the Blackhawks, and to appreciate his remaining time. Whether that time ends up being with another team remains to be seen. Because it just can’t last forever. Like Toews said, “I think I’ll know when I know.”

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So like Toews, let’s stop trying to project his future and just live in the moment. Appreciate him now, and let the chips fall where they may.

Thank you for reading this August edition of Blackhawks Bytes. Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section. We’ll get through the offseason together!

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