TEMPE, Ariz. — Lukas Reichel has zero points in eight games this season. No matter what, that’s a concern for the Blackhawks.
Reichel’s sudden inability to produce coinciding with the Hawks’ decision to move him to center full-time makes the situation even more concerning.
On the surface, the storyline looks straightforward: Playing center is stifling his development. Yet Hawks coach Luke Richardson remains stubbornly committed to the plan: Reichel will continue playing center for the indefinite future.
“There’s no timeline on it,” Richardson said. “It’s just growth, and it needs time, and it needs reps. You have to sometimes have a little patience for that.”
So what gives? Part of it is exactly what Richardson described: The Hawks want to give the talented Reichel, 21, months, not weeks, to adjust to and prove he can handle the more wide-ranging offensive and defensive duties of a center. This season isn’t really about winning, so they can afford to be patient.
Another part of it, however, is that playing center isn’t that different from playing wing — at least not different enough to fully explain Reichel’s drop-off from 15 points in 23 games last season. There are other factors and issues contributing to his struggles.
The Hawks believe one of those issues involves Reichel not holding on to pucks long enough to give plays chances to unfold.
Richardson often emphasizes the importance of accepting uneventful shifts and making decisions to live for another day, and Reichel might’ve taken that rhetoric a little too much to heart. He had been playing, if anything, too conservatively — particularly in the neutral and offensive zones, where occasional turnovers aren’t disastrous.
Richardson recently showed Reichel video clips accompanying a message about “not just throwing the puck away in certain situations,” and veteran forward Nick Foligno also has talked to him about that.
“When he has the puck on his stick, we’re a lot better team,” Foligno said. “That’s just the youth in him right now that’s forcing things a little too early. Honestly, [he’s] getting the puck off his stick a little too early.”
It’s a fine balance to strike, but Reichel agreed with their feedback.
“Sometimes you’ve got to chip it in, and sometimes you can make a play and hold on to it,” Reichel said. “What I try to do now is just [decide] when I do what.
“Even in the D-zone, I [should] not toe-drag someone but try to hold on to it and make a play, not just chip it out. But at the same time, you’ve got to be aware because you don’t want to make a turnover.”
Entering the matchup Monday against the Coyotes, the Hawks are optimistic that he might be turning the corner.
His performance Friday against the Golden Knights — centering the second line between Jason Dickinson and Taylor Raddysh — was easily his best this season. The Hawks generated a 15-5 shot advantage during his ice time, and he made two smart decisions on the “hold vs. dump puck” spectrum during a first-period shift that set up the Hawks’ first goal.
First, after an offensive-zone entry, he held on to the puck, curled around, drew two Knights defenders and passed off to Jarred Tinordi with an open shooting lane. Fifteen seconds later, he instead dumped the puck into the right spot and went for a line change; Ryan Donato came on for him and scored immediately.
“It’s things like that that we’re looking for,” Richardson said. “It’s just smart hockey. It doesn’t have to be lightning speed through the middle.”
Added Reichel: “The points will come. If I think about it, it’s in your head. I just want to play my game.”
NOTE: The Hawks put defenseman Alex Vlasic in the concussion protocol and called up Isaak Phillips to replace him Monday.