Blackhawks notebook: Boris Katchouk injury widens Lukas Reichel’s path to making team

MILWAUKEE — It hasn’t come about in the way the Blackhawks would have preferred, but top prospect Lukas Reichel now has an easier path to make their opening-night roster.

Entering the final week of the preseason — after the Hawks lost 3-0 to the Wild on Sunday at Fiserv Forum — the roster battle on the forward side now looks more interesting.

Boris Katchouk will miss the next four to six weeks because of a sprained left ankle, the team announced, opening up his spot to challengers until at least November. In addition, fellow depth forward Jujhar Khaira is day-to-day with an injury to his right ankle.

It’s an unlucky break for Katchouk, who was having one of his best games in a Hawks sweater Saturday — plowing through Red Wings like a wrecking ball on his way to the net every shift — before leaving in the third period.

”He was skating really well; he was doing a great job on the penalty kill,” coach Luke Richardson said. ”That sucks for him. Players work really hard in the summer to prepare for this, and [when] you don’t even get to start the season, it’s disappointing.”

If the Hawks want to replace Katchouk with a similar type of player, Reichel won’t be the guy. Josiah Slavin, who has looked like a budding penalty-kill specialist this preseason, would more likely benefit in that situation.

But if the Hawks want to replace Katchouk with the best player overall, Reichel is the obvious choice. His vision and agility with the puck on his stick — orchestrating blue-line entries with ease — would be extremely valuable for the offensively challenged Hawks, provided management is willing to throw him into the fire right away.

”There’s some flashes that [Lukas has] shown,” Richardson said. ”Obviously, he’s got the skill. I found a couple of clips for him defensively [where] he was in really good position. So now he’s just got to dig down and fight for that spot.

”He’s definitely skillful enough to play in this league. He just has to make sure he keeps pushing to deserve that opportunity.”

Quicker decisions

Preseason caveats aside, it’s concerning — albeit not particularly surprising — that the Hawks have scored only four non-empty-net goals in their first four exhibition games.

They fielded completely different rosters Saturday and Sunday, but both groups looked equally indecisive and ineffective in dangerous scoring areas. New signees Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi have been two of the most frequent offenders in that regard. They continue to force lateral passes to Patrick Kane instead of shooting from the slot.

Captain Jonathan Toews, who played Saturday but not Sunday, broke down a few issues the Hawks are having.

”It comes down to guys talking more and knowing what their options are when they get the puck,” Toews said. ”We just tended to kind of stand still, wait one, two, three seconds, and then the play’s gone. You’re putting the next guy in a bad position and it’s a turnover, and then we spend a shift in our own zone.

”We’re just throwing [the puck] into an area to get rid of it and throw your teammate under the bus when he gets the puck. . . . [If] you support each other better, support the puck-carrier better and work harder to get to those open spots, then things are easier on the next player.”

Toews probably will spend much of the season frustrated. Most of his teammates simply aren’t upper-tier NHL players. But the Hawks would like to correct as many underlying problems as possible before camp ends.

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