Blackhawks Have an Under-the-Radar Calder Candidate in Reichel

When thinking about potential Calder Trophy candidates for 2022-23, Lukas Reichel might not be the first name that comes to a lot of people’s minds. Reichel, the Chicago Blackhawks‘ 2020 first-round pick, is one of their best prospects in years, but he’s far from a finished product. There’s also no guarantee he’ll begin the season with Chicago.

This year’s rookie class could be stacked, and at first glance, Reichel might seem like a small fish in a big pond. However, while he has a lot to prove at the NHL level, there’s just as much a chance he could surprise. Reichel isn’t the flashiest name among possible rookies and could play on what will likely be an awful Blackhawks team. Yet, there’s a good case for why he could exceed expectations and put himself in the mix for this year’s award.

Reichel Has Excelled in the AHL & During Other Competition

After spending 2020-21 with Eisbären Berlin in Germany, Reichel came to North America last season. He thrived with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs, recording 57 points (21 goals, 36 assists) in 56 games. Although this is a small sample size, it’s impressive how quickly Reichel adapted just one year removed from his draft.

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Reichel’s AHL success, though, didn’t quite translate to the NHL. He skated in 11 games with the Blackhawks last season over three stints, tallying just one assist, and it wasn’t until his 10th NHL game he recorded his first point. During all three of his call-ups, there were times when he looked out of place and a little uncomfortable with NHL action. However, he seemed to grow and slowly build on his weaknesses each game, which Chicago fans should view as a positive.

Not only did Reichel have a good first year in Rockford, but he also had an impressive showing at the World Championships with Team Germany back in May. Through just four games, he tallied five points (two goals, three assists) after previously recording six points in nine games for Germany during the 2021 World Championships. From the international stage to the AHL, there’s no doubt Reichel has succeeded at just about every level he’s played so far.

After a productive offseason, Reichel’s more than ready to become a full-time NHL player. While winning might not be a priority for the Blackhawks, developing young talent should be. It could be a productive rookie season for Reichel if the team maximizes his opportunities and capitalizes on his strengths.

Reichel Worked on Strength Over the Offseason

Of course, there’s no doubt NHL competition is much different and tougher than that of the AHL. During his time with Chicago last year, one area Reichel seemed to be lacking in was his overall strength and size. Though this didn’t seem to be a huge issue for the Blackhawks or Reichel, it’s part of what made him look a little outmatched during his first taste of the NHL.

Lukas Reichel Eisbaeren Berlin
Lukas Reichel, Eisbaeren Berlin (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

That said, Reichel spent the offseason gaining weight. According to Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers of The Athletic, Reichel spent the summer following a plan to eat healthier, which he said positively impacted his body (from ‘Blackhawks prospect notebook: Bigger, healthier Lukas Reichel ready for second NHL season,’ The Athletic, 09/14/22).

Now, Reichel’s lack of strength wasn’t the only area holding him back from exceeding at the NHL level last season. Effective puck management was also something he struggled with at times and is an area of his game he’ll need to improve in to become an above-average NHL forward. However, the fact that Reichel got bigger this offseason should be seen as a step in the right direction. The Blackhawks could use size, too, so his gradual development should just as much benefit the team.

Playing With Kane Could Benefit Reichel’s Production

As a point-per-game player in the AHL with no shortage of skill, it’ll be intriguing to see how the Blackhawks utilize Reichel should he make this season’s team. He has the offensive firepower to earn a top-six role, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him earn a middle-six role knowing it may lessen some pressure.

Yet, considering his AHL success last season, Reichel deserves the chance to earn a role in Chicago’s top-six even though the team isn’t looking to compete. If he struggles to succeed, he could always take on a lesser role or return to the IceHogs. This could be huge for his development, though, as it would mean potentially getting to play with Patrick Kane, who remains one of the NHL’s most elite forwards.

Related: Blackhawks Projected Lines & Pairings Headed Into Training Camp

Since the Blackhawks’ last Stanley Cup in 2015, Kane’s played some of the best hockey of his career. Since then, he’s also developed and supported the production of Artemi Panarin, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome. While, of course, neither of those three forwards remain in Chicago, they all thrived during their early days with the club largely because of Kane and his abilities.

Granted, Reichel will have to prove during training camp and preseason he’s worth making the NHL, let alone playing with Kane. Over the offseason, the Blackhawks signed veterans Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi to bolster their forward depth and for good reason. As strange as it may sound, forwards such as Taylor Raddysh, Sam Lafferty, and Philipp Kurashev could also all be in the mix for top-six roles.

Based on Reichel’s offseason and Chicago’s rebuilding goals, though, playing in the team’s top-six and potentially with Kane shouldn’t be out of the question. This would be an opportunity most rookies don’t always get, which could benefit Reichel and give him even a slight edge over others who could be in the mix for this year’s Calder.

Reichel Could Surprise Despite Tough Competition & Deserves Consideration

There’s a very good case for Reichel to begin the season with the Blackhawks. It’s still early, but it’s been a promising start in training camp for the 20-year-old forward. Reichel finished the second game of last weekend’s Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase with four assists in a 5-0 shutout win over the Minnesota Wild.

Ranking his top 20 Calder Trophy candidates entering the season, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler placed Reichel 11th and said without Kane by his side, his odds of exceeding expectations and winning the award decrease (from ‘Ranking the top 20 Calder Trophy candidates for the 2022-23 NHL season,’ The Athletic, 09/08/22).

Let’s face it: in the final year of his contract, there’s no guarantee Kane finishes the season in Chicago. Even if Reichel starts (and ends) the year in the top-six, his production could drop if Kane leaves. But, there’s just as much a chance Kane could set Reichel up for success moving forward and he continues to thrive without him if this scenario were to happen.

Lukas Reichel Rockford IceHogs
Lukas Reichel, Rockford IceHogs (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

If Reichel makes the team, he could be a bright spot on what will otherwise likely be a poor Blackhawks club. It may sound like a stretch, but I don’t think a 40-point season is out of the question for him. This total could be even higher if he earns a role in the top-six and spends much of his time with Kane, which, of course, would only boost his odds for the award.

Ultimately, there’s a good reason why Reichel’s a dark horse for this year’s Calder. He doesn’t have the same profile as Owen Power or the flair of Matthew Beniers or Mason McTavish. It would take a lot from Reichel to put himself in the mix, but he’s clearly done everything possible over the offseason and into training camp to build on areas of growth while maximizing his strengths.

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