The Blackhawks are seven games into the 2023-24 season, and head coach Luke Richardson has already switched up his squad’s lines too many times to count. Sure, some of that is due to injury shuffling like Taylor Hall being in and out of the lineup and Philipp Kurashev coming back Tuesday, but it’s clear Chicago is still trying to find a combination that works.
Nearly all available options have been exhausted, except one: Lukas Reichel has been a staple at center. The 21-year-old was one of the Blackhawks’ best wingers last season, but this year, he’s been given an extended look at center. It’s still early, of course, but it’s clear that strategy hasn’t panned out. Reichel has yet to come close to registering a point and carries a plus-minus of -7. The one bright spot in his game has been an uptick in his faceoff win percentage (48.2%, up from 38.5% last season), but the young star has been obviously uncomfortable in his new role. Contrarily, he’s made the most of the little ice time he’s been given on the wing, looking like an entirely new skater.
Though the Blackhawks could certainly use Reichel for long-term center depth, is it time to pull the plug on the experiment? The team clearly isn’t in contention for the Stanley Cup, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to improve wherever possible. Richardson said after Tuesday’s loss that his squad is looking for more success this season.
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“I’m kind of, at the point, tired. One year’s enough of ‘We’re a hard-working team’. We want to push for more this year.”– Luke Richardson
If Richardson truly feels that way, it’s time to end the Reichel experiment and move him up to the top-line winger spot.
Set up for long-term success
The idea behind Reichel’s move to center was that it would be better in the long run, but all signs currently point to the opposite being true. Every minute Reichel spends at center seems to hamper his development, and he’s a player that shoulders many of the hopes of fans that this team will eventually become a championship contender. In addition to his own success, a move to the top-line wing would certainly bode well for the Blackhawks’ future. It’s been great for Connor Bedard to learn from two talented veterans in Taylor Hall and Ryan Donato, but both of those players’ contracts are set to expire after next season, and they aren’t a part of the long-term plans of this team. Instead, it would be much more promising to see Reichel and Bedard on a line together at this stage of their young careers, as they could develop chemistry that would make their line a formidable one for the next decade.
It’s almost as if the two youngsters are thinking along those same lines, as they came together at the end of today’s practice to work on Reichel’s one-timers:
Imagining this combination together at the United Center for years to come is a dream for many Blackhawks fans. Though Reichel’s current experiment is great in theory, it’s clear he belongs on the wing – especially next to Bedard.