The Blackhawks made their second wave of roster cuts on Wednesday and it included top prospect Lukas Reichel, who will begin his pro career with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. And it's the right call not to throw him into the fire too early.
For one, the Blackhawks have had a heated training camp battle ongoing for the 12 forwards spots and young players like Henrik Borgstrom, MacKenzie Entwistle, Adam Gaudette and Mike Hardman are making strong cases to be included on the main roster. Ryan Carpenter, Reese Johnson, Jujhar Khaira, Philipp Kurashev, Alex Nylander and Dylan Strome are also in the mix, as well.
It's a long list and not enough spots for everyone, which brings us to the next point: Entwistle, Hardman, Johnson and Kurashev are the only four players from that group who are waivers exempt. All four of those guys probably deserve a spot on the Opening Night roster if we're going based on performance alone.
But it's a numbers game, and the Blackhawks are going to factor in each players' waiver status when trimming the roster to 23. Having organizational depth is something that's important to them.
In Reichel's case, he looked excellent in the 2021 Tom Kurvers Rookie Showcase in Minnesota. And he's been solid throughout training camp. But he hasn't been tearing it up to the point where the Blackhawks simply couldn't refuse to leave him off the roster.
You can tell by his performance in the preseason that he could use some more development time to get acclimated to the pro game.
"I thought the exhibition game level was a challenge for him early but I think he’s a very smart player," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Thursday. "The skating’s there, the skills are there, it’s just understanding what can I do out there? What can I get away with? Can I make that puck play there? No? Then do something else. He might be able to make it in two months, but that process of just getting comfortable is important for him."
The good news is, the Blackhawks can afford to be patient with Reichel, given everything mentioned above. They haven't had that luxury for a while.
Their last two top prospects had a quicker-than-expected path to the NHL. In Adam Boqvist's situation, he was recalled one year too early out of necessity. And in Kirby Dach's case, he made the team right out of camp as an 18-year-old, in part because the Blackhawks wanted to compete for a playoff spot and keeping him on the roster enhanced those chances.
Reichel is going to be a very good NHL one day. He might even become an everyday player at some point later this season. But the Blackhawks need to make sure they over-ripen their 2020 first-round pick, for the betterment of both the player and the team.
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