Lukas Reichel earns first NHL point, burns first contract year in Blackhawks’ loss to Predators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Blackhawks officially burned the first year of Lukas Reichel’s three-year entry-level contract Saturday.

The Hawks’ top prospect played his 10th NHL game of the season –crossing the threshold that will make him a restricted free agent in 2024 instead of 2025 — in the Hawks’ 4-3 loss to the Predators.

Fittingly, Reichel finally earned his first career NHL point in the game, tallying the secondary assist on Dominik Kubalik’s second-period goal after making a smart pass to Jake McCabe.

“I’m sure it’s a relief for him,” Hawks interim coach Derek King said. “It [was] a good heads-up play, and that’s what we expect from him. Him getting that point is going to make him feel better, get a little confidence, not squeeze his stick as much [while] thinking, ‘I’ve got to get points. I’ve got to get points.’ I was happy for the kid.”

Reichel has come close on many occasions, especially recently, to finally breaking through. He barely missed several high-grade scoring opportunities Tuesday against the Kings, in particular.

Now that the goose egg is gone, the floodgates will ideally open.

“I’ve had great chances the last few games,” Reichel said. “My first call-up, I had some chances, [too]. It makes you feel better whenyou get your first point. But obviously [in] the game, we battled to the end but we lost, so we’ve got to learn from it.”

The Hawks indeed pushed hard late, cutting a two-goal deficit to one and nearly zero, but their 15-3 edge in shot attempts over the final nine minutes couldn’t cancel out the Predators’ 56-32 advantage up to that point.

It’s rare for teams to intentionally burn a contract year when a borderline AHL-NHL prospect like Reichel is eligible for a contract slide.

The extra year with a cheap entry-level salary cap hit –in Reichel’s case, $925,000 –is valuable. This season alone, the Sharks held William Eklund, the Ducks held Mason McTavish and the Blues held Jake Neighbours at nine games each for that reason.

But Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson has previously presented the counterargument that getting Reichel to RFA status a year quicker could make his next contract more affordable, as he’ll have one fewer season of NHL production to reference in negotiations.

“I’m not too concerned with it, to be honest,” Davidson said April 1. “Once we’re looking at really…utilizing every dollar [under the cap], he’s probably going to be in a different contract anyway, out of his entry-level. [If] we burn it, we burn it.”

Now the focus turns to Reichel’s shorter-term development.

He has been competent but not especially impactful during his first 10 games; King said Friday he has “come not a long ways but…a little ways” this season. The Hawks certainly hope this is just the tip of the iceberg for their unanimous top prospect.

One area in which Reichel, like many 19-year-old forwards, absolutely needs to improve is his strength. With his bony 6-foot, 170-pound frame, he’s noticeably weaker than many of the hulking opponents he faces every game.

This offseason will be a crucial time in that regard. At the recommendation of the Hawks and his agent, Allain Roy, Reichel plans to stay in Chicago for most of the summer.

He’ll be working out with renowned Hawks strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman, whose coaching will likely boost his confidence and mental maturation just as much as his physical growth.

“He’s going to be a good hockey player,” King said. “He just needs to mature, get some facial hair, maybe lose a tooth or so and build up some muscle up and strength, and you’ll see him — he’ll take off.”

Added Reichel: “I’ve got to get stronger. It’s my goal.”

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