On Tuesday night, the Blackhawks used their first-round pick (17th overall) to select forward Lukas Reichel from Eisbaren Berlin of the DEL, which is Germany’s top league.
Many fans likely didn’t know much about Reichel when the pick was announced. That is a fair feeling, as most media members didn’t expect Reichel to be in the conversation for the Blackhawks at 17.
Names such as Dylan Holloway, Seth Jarvis, Dawson Mercer, and even elite goaltender Iaroslav Askaraov were mentioned as possibilities for the Blackhawks at 17, all ahead of Reichel. Instead, the Blackhawks opted for the German winger they saw in person before the official start of the 2019-20 NHL season.
In the final preseason game of the 2019-20 season, the Blackhawks played Eisbaren Berlin before traveling to Prague, Czech Republic for their season opener with the Philadelphia Flyers. In that game, they got an up-close look at the 17-year-old who was playing a key role on a team of men. Clearly the Blackhawks front office saw something they liked, as they ultimately selected the winger as their first-round draft choice a little over a year later.
That said, let’s breakdown this reaction piece into three categories: raw opinion of the pick — or reaction, what can be expected of Reichel when he hopefully makes it to the NHL someday, and the verdict on the pick.
As a fan, my reaction was very similar to what was mentioned earlier in this article. “Who?” Yes, that was a question that I’m sure most Blackhawks fans and media members alike said when the pick was announced on Tuesday night. There were a lot of unknowns about the German prospect because he was not mentioned much in any pre-draft analysis as being linked to Chicago.
Regardless, Stan Bowman pulled the trigger and landed his guy, or maybe his second guy. Reports surfaced on Wednesday morning that the Blackhawks attempted to move up to pick #9, #10, or #11, likely to pick goaltender Iaroslav Askarov. The Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, and Nashville Predators, respectively, all declined to move their pick to a division rival. After hearing that, it was clear that the expanded playoff potentially ruined the Blackhawks’ chances of landing a star goalie prospect.
The sorrow of Askarov heading to Nashville at #11 aside, the Blackhawks selected what is being considered a very “safe” pick in Reichel. I understand that thought as he’s projected as a top-six player as his ceiling. He’ll likely accomplish that role, but naturally NHL teams and fans alike will hope every first-round pick becomes a star player at the next level.
Admittedly, this was a year in which I was not as educated about the prospect pool as I was in years past. That said, once I did some digging into Reichel, his NHL family bloodlines, and his style of play, I see a player that can at least be a needed piece of a contending organization a couple of years down the road.
However, despite not over-questioning the first-round pick for Chicago, I do have a lot of questions about the rest of the draft. Check out the latest episode of the Four Feathers Podcast for those reactions.
What Will Reichel’s Role Be?
Reichel, as mentioned before, projects as a top-six winger when he eventually makes the NHL. He was quoted in his draft Zoom call saying he believes he’ll be ready for the NHL in two years. He’ll likely have every opportunity to play in the top-six for the Blackhawks since they’ll likely continue on a downturn, and who knows what the salary cap situation will look like at that point, so inexpensive players will be the recipe for success.
When talking player comparisons with regard to Reichel, a name that keeps popping up is current Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad. Saad goes to the dirty areas, isn’t afraid to retrieve pucks, and plays a hard, aggressive style that succeeds in today’s NHL. From all the scouting reports on Reichel, he measures up as a similar player.
Another takeaway from his film in Germany is his role on the power play. Saad typically slots in on the second power play unit in Chicago and plays more on the boards and down low. In Germany, Reichel played the Kirby Dach/Dylan Strome role on the power play, which is right in front of the net. Reichel isn’t afraid to go to those dirty areas and get beat up for pucks. What makes it even more impressive is that he plays in a league with grown men and he’s only 18 years old.
Reichel will likely become a Brandon Saad 2.0 of sorts for the Blackhawks when he debuts. His largest challenge will be adapting to the North American ice, so a year in Rockford, possibly in 2021-22, could be very helpful for the young man as he plays the 2020-21 season in the DEL.
The Blackhawks selected a player with a high floor, but not as high of a ceiling that some would have hoped the 17th overall pick would have. This draft is one with a lot of questions about Stan Bowman’s talent evaluation, but Reichel seems like a sure-fire bet to become a solid contributor for this Blackhawks team in the future. With that said, it may be an underwhelming pick, but I think it could have been worse for Stan and company. As for the rest of the draft, that’s a whole other story.