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DALLAS — Lukas Reichel sat location connected nan visitors chair successful St. Louis past Saturday night, waiting for personification to telephone his name, to smack him connected nan back, to nonstop him complete nan boards. And pinch each passing shift, pinch each St. Louis Blues goal, his legs — and his bosom — grew heavier.
Being benched is ever tough. Being benched erstwhile you consciousness you’re playing beautiful good is moreover tougher.
“Yeah, it’s really difficult connected you mentally,” said Reichel, who played conscionable 2 uneventful shifts successful that full 3rd play arsenic nan Chicago Blackhawks turned a 4-2 lead into a crushing 7-5 nonaccomplishment heading into nan Christmas break. “You effort to instrumentality successful nan game, effort to beryllium successful nan moment, but it’s not easy. Especially erstwhile you don’t touch nan puck a lot.”
Reichel had thought — or, astatine least, had hoped — his prolonged season-opening slump was yet down him. He had returned to nan apical statement pinch Connor Bedard and Ryan Donato, and nan trio seemed to find immoderate speedy chemistry. Reichel scored a large extremity connected a large changeable successful a location triumph complete Colorado conscionable 4 days earlier, and he could consciousness nan momentum building, his crippled returning.
Even aft dropping down to nan 4th statement for nan St. Louis crippled aft a lifeless nonaccomplishment to Montreal a nighttime earlier, Reichel stayed positive. Through 2 periods, nan Blackhawks were up 2 goals, and Reichel, on pinch Cole Guttman and Reese Johnson, outplayed nan Blues to nan tune of a 10-1 separator successful changeable attempts and a 3-1 separator successful scoring chances. In his team-low 7 minutes and 28 seconds of crystal time, Reichel had a 94.45 expected goals share. And he sewage benched for it.
After that Blues game, Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said of his 4th statement that “It didn’t look for illustration it was their night,” and said they were turning complete excessively galore pucks successful nan 2nd period. The vacation break didn’t alteration his mind, arsenic Reichel played conscionable 9:09 successful an overtime triumph complete nan Winnipeg Jets connected Wednesday.
Reichel again started connected nan 4th statement successful Friday’s 5-4 overtime nonaccomplishment to nan Dallas Stars, but he continued to show that nan worst yet mightiness beryllium down him. With Taylor Raddysh playing conscionable 2 shifts earlier leaving nan crippled pinch a lower-body injury, Reichel played a patient 16:33, and he showed a fewer flashes of nan velocity and accomplishment that made him truthful effective past spring, including retrieving a Connor Murphy changeable down nan nett and made a slick backhanded walk to Cole Guttman from down nan nett for a first-period goal. Meanwhile, nan reunited apical statement of Nick Foligno, Bedard and Philipp Kurashev was drowning successful possession for nan 3rd consecutive game. They’ve been out-attempted 54-18 successful nan past 3 games together.
“Hopefully he feels bully astir that and we’ll fto him cognize that there’s immoderate affirmative signs,” Richardson said of Reichel aft nan game. “In a crippled for illustration this, location were ups and downs for everybody, truthful we’ll make judge we support moving connected nan areas we tin critique and make amended for him to person success.”
Of course, Reichel needs accordant crystal clip to find his crippled again. But he can’t get accordant crystal clip until he finds his crippled again. It’s a Catch-22 successful English. In Reichel’s autochthonal German, it’s known arsenic der teufelskreis — nan devil’s circle.
“It’s very tough,” Reichel said. “But I effort to study from it. It’s a portion of being a pro.”
Reichel said Richardson showed him immoderate clips from caller games — some positive, immoderate little truthful — to exemplify precisely what he’s looking for retired of nan erstwhile first-round prime who was expected to beryllium specified a large portion of nan discourtesy this season. On 1 of nan clips, Reichel carried nan puck into nan violative area and past threw nan puck into nan slot, wherever 3 bodies were successful nan way. Richardson told Reichel he should person kept going, utilizing his speed, to transportation nan puck deeper — even down nan net, if basal — and look for a amended passing lane aliases a changeable for himself, alternatively than springiness up possession pinch specified a low-percentage pass.
Put simply: Work harder, create more.
“He’s sewage to usage his velocity and clasp onto that puck and make immoderate action hap erstwhile he’s connected nan ice,” Richardson said. “There’s conscionable been times wherever he’s mislaid assurance and he doesn’t want to skate pinch that puck, and he wants to walk it disconnected to personification else. We request him to return complaint a small more.”
Confidence has ne'er been an rumor for Reichel, who had 7 goals and 8 assists successful 23 games past season, aft putting up 51 points successful 55 American Hockey League games. With his crystal clip down, Reichel said he’s breaking his attraction down into smaller increments successful bid to sphere his assurance — having a bully shift, a bully scoring chance, moreover a bully warmup aliases a bully post-practice convention connected nan ice. He was 1 of nan past guys disconnected nan crystal aft Friday’s greeting skate, coming successful pinch Connor Bedard and moreover aft notorious lingerer Kevin Korchinski.
Reichel still believes successful himself, and successful his expertise to nutrient astatine nan NHL level. But pinch conscionable 3 goals and 5 assists successful 34 games this season, do nan Blackhawks still believe?
General head Kyle Davidson said 2 weeks agone that a demotion to Rockford wasn’t connected nan array conscionable yet, and that Reichel already had proven he’s an NHL player. And Richardson said Friday that he still supports nan 21-year-old winger.
“You can’t springiness up connected young players,” Richardson said. “He’s sewage a batch of talent. Confidence levels are going to spell up and down. We’ve sewage to instrumentality pinch him until he gets much accordant connected nan upward side. … Some guys travel successful and they return disconnected and they conscionable support going, but there’s mini levels of nan debased valleys. But location are immoderate guys that are going to person longer times astatine nan debased valleys, and you’ve conscionable sewage to instrumentality pinch them and thief them out.”
And while playing 20 minutes a nighttime successful each situations successful Rockford mightiness thief Reichel find his scoring touch again, he’d surely alternatively beryllium playing successful nan NHL, moreover if it’s 8 minutes a night.
“It’s everyone’s dream present to play successful nan NHL,” he said. “Of course, everyone wants to play large minutes, and I want to beryllium a subordinate who makes a difference. But I didn’t play bully enough. It’s frustrating, but each I tin power is playing bully successful nan minutes I person now. If that useful out, hopefully I get much and much minutes.”
Looming complete each of this is Reichel’s statement situation. While there’s nary chance nan Blackhawks move Reichel aliases fto him walk, he will beryllium a restricted free supplier this summer. Entering nan season, nan Blackhawks had penciled successful for a monolithic raise from his entry-level deal. At this rate, a qualifying connection mightiness beryllium each Reichel gets.
With each nighttime arsenic a fourth-liner, Reichel’s losing money — apt millions, each told. But what matters astir is that he doesn’t suffer faith.
“It’s successful my mind, but I conscionable want to play hockey,” he said of his adjacent contract. “I’m not worried astir money aliases anything. It’s portion of it, yeah, but I’m not reasoning like, ‘Oh, s—, I person 3 goals successful 30 games.’ My contract’s not getting amended by (dwelling) connected that. I cognize what I tin do. I showed it past year, what I tin bring connected nan ice. It’s conscionable astir putting it connected nan crystal each game. That’s what my extremity is for my full career, to play my crippled consistently. It’s conscionable not easy arsenic a young guy. It’s nan NHL. All I tin do is support working.”
(Top photo: Jason Mowry / Getty Images)