It seems like just yesterday that I was yelling at my TV. I was so unbelievably happy that Dawson Mercer has somehow fallen to the Chicago Blackhawks at #17. The next few minutes I was just hoping that (former) GM Stan Bowman wouldn't overthink this one and just take the best talent on the board.
Fast forward a few minutes later and Lukas Reichel was announced as the pick (followed by Mercer to New Jersey at #18). Bowman has done it I remember saying. He over thought this one. I, like many, liked (and still do) Reichel as a player and even more so as a person. His interview in Germany was in the middle of the night with his family sitting with him and what was hanging behind him? Yep, a #88 Patrick Kane Blackhawks jersey. It was beautiful, my spirits were lifted and I had more confidence that eventually he'd be a great wing at the next level.
December 13th (today) is really a point in time though for me where I realize the facts. Lukas Reichel is not a pick by Kyle Davidson, and if anything we've learned that the Blackhawks' GM isn't emotional on the players from the former regime. No, if anything, he is quite quick to make a call on that players future with his run franchise.
Lukas has put in his time going through the correct procedures to become a good NHL top 6 forward. His time in Rockford in the AHL proved he could be (at that level) a dependable point getter and goal scorer. To net 108 points in 111 AHL games is impressive for a player that was 19-20 years old. It showed a mature game and the belief was that he was almost ready. The 22-23 season ended positively too for Reichel as he had 0.65 ppg through 23 contests with the Hawks.
Now to this season and those numbers are at 0.22 ppg through 27 matchups. There has been a healthy scratch, a line demotion, and constant media attention on his production (lack there of). So what is happening? Tonight I watched Dawson Mercer score a big goal in a 2-1 win over one of the best teams in the league (Bruins) for his 110th career point. He is an impressive young middle 6 forward that looks like he'll be on that trajectory for the next decade. So why didn't Chicago just take Mercer? Would Davidson have taken Mercer over Reichel (a presumed end of the 1st to early 2nd round pick)?
I believe he would have taken Mercer given his small sample size of taking the best player on the board (Nazar, Moore in particular). To me, despite Reichel only being 21 (young for the class) the recent play has been concerning. It is not a question of talent for me, it's effort, concentration, and determination. With under 2 minutes to go in OT on December 5th I watched as Reichel got possession along the left board (bench side) in the offensive zone 40 seconds into his shift. He pushed it a little ahead and went to retreive again and had a little nudge from behind at which point he gave up on the play and instead of keeping the play alive just changed on the bench as the Predators skated past as he changed. It is this play amongst others that has my eye.
Like many have said, confidence seems to be the issue. It could be as simple as finding the right linemates, maybe a permanent switch to LW, or as many predict a stint in Rockford to regain his confidence. So at this point I think the question of what will the Blackhawks do with him should be on everyone's mind at the present moment. Davidson won't sell low on a talented forward (he has shown to be a shrewd GM afterall), he also won't waste his time on an asset taking up ice when he could be using those minutes to gauge other young forwards like Colton Dach (for one).
Whichever way you look at it, the answer may just be that this isn't a Davidson draft pick and we may get a call on his future in Chicago sooner rather than later. Not being a professional athlete and on the opinion end of things, I do find it difficult to voice an opinion that may be unpopular. I simply want to see him gain back that effort and ability to dash in for scores that we all know he can do. I do also find I may (and hope) to be wrong on this, or perhaps he reads this and gets verruckt (!) enough to gain that edge we saw at the end of the 22-23 season. Lukas Reichel, the clock is on. You have the speed, the skill, the talent to become a true top 6 producing forward. Time to show it.