How can the Blackhawks help Lukas Reichel find his confidence again? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
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Reichel hasn't scored in 15 consecutive games, and he hasn't registered a shot on goal in three straight. It was time for another reset.
"He’s doing a lot of things that we’re asking him to do defensively," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "It’s just, again, it's the same: it's confidence offensively and that's shooting pucks and not holding onto them too long and getting stripped and being frustrated and making him play defense too much. Sometimes he’s just overthinking it."
Nick Foligno, who has seemingly seen and gone through it all in the NHL, understands what Reichel is going through to some degree.
"I think a lot of times what happens is there's too many people sometimes in your ear," Foligno said. "We've all been there too. I've had my struggles over my career where your game's not where you want it to be. Sometimes it's not as bad as you make it out to be and then other times it's not as great as you make it out to be when you're playing well too, right?
"Reichs just has to find that confidence within himself and learn that the best way to come out of these things sometimes is through the work that you do, not somebody else coming over to you, it's the grind that you put yourself through and the mental component of it that really pulls you out. And then when you do come out, you feel like you've gained tools mentally and physically to sustain whatever you're going to go through."
Richardson acknowledged it's a delicate balance between giving Reichel the necessary feedback and not feeding him with too much information.
"It’s a balance, for sure, I think just a little bit," Richardson said. "Trying to find [clips of] him maybe making the right decisions and maybe making the wrong decisions or the timing of it. Just a couple of them. It doesn’t have to be 15 or whatever, just a couple of instances and then maybe showing him — which we have — a couple of other players.
"Kinger [assistant coach Derek King] showed him last year when he was flying high on confidence, some games near the end of the year. It’s a little bit of a balance of all of that, but also providing him just a little bit of knowledge to play it simple, strike when the time is right, when it presents itself. And that’s not just him. That’s everybody."
Longtime Rockford IceHogs GM Mark Bernard joined our HawkCast broadcast last week, and I asked him about Reichel's growing pains. His confidence in the 21-year-old hasn't wavered.
"I still have a lot of belief in Lukas," Bernard said. "He's a young player. He came over here at a young age, he's finding his way in the National Hockey League. Just because you had really good success early on in the American League, doesn't always translate right away to the National Hockey League. It's a big jump.
"He thinks the game really well. He's got a passion and a love for the sport. He works extremely hard. He's going to find his way. We just have to be patient with him. Like every young player, there's going to be things he has to improve upon and if he listens to his coaching staff and improves in those areas, I think he's going to be a good player for us."
The last few weeks have probably been particularly frustrating for Reichel, who was given some more opportunity with Connor Bedard out. The Blackhawks have struggled mightily to score since their rookie phenom fractured his jaw on Jan. 5, and Reichel perhaps put too much weight on his shoulders to help be part of the solution to the team's offensive struggles.
"It's hard," Bernard said. "It's hard, you put pressure on yourself, too. It's not just the pressure from the outside voices, it's the pressure that you take home with you every day. You want to be successful, you want to be the guy they can count on, and it starts to wear on you a little bit."
So, what's next for Reichel? How can the Blackhawks get him going and build his confidence back up?
The option the Blackhawks haven't used yet is an AHL assignment, which I'd imagine is the last resort. Reichel has outgrown the AHL, but it's becoming harder to ignore at this point. He needs to get into a comfort zone again and remind himself of the player he is and can be.
The question the Blackhawks are likely asking themselves is: Would a stint in Rockford knock down his confidence even more or would it allow him to exhale and work on his craft away from the spotlight?
The Blackhawks are approaching their bye week and All-Star break, so there could be an opportunity for them to send Reichel down during the break. At the same time, a week and a half away from the rink to clear his mind could be beneficial for him, too.
The Blackhawks are hoping Reichel watching from up top is the extent of what he needs.
"Sometimes when you take a step back," Richardson said, "and work on some individual stuff, see some video, and see some other players making some correct decisions but also some incorrect decisions, that sometimes helps you get your game on track."
The Blackhawks are trying just about anything and everything with Reichel, who's on pace to finish with only five goals, 11 assists and 16 points. But the coaching staff and his teammates can only do so much.
"The biggest thing is just being a good teammate and that's building him up but also just understanding as a player, there's a responsibility that we all have to our team and to ourselves," Foligno said. "And if your game's not where you want it to be, what work are you putting in to get it to where you want it to be? What are you doing off the ice? What are you doing on the ice? What are you focusing on in the gym? If it's strength, if it's mental part, what are you looking at in video clips? What are you doing on the day to day? You've got to change something, right? But also all the while knowing what got you to that point. I think that's the hardest balance, it's like you can't just keep doing the same thing over and over but also trusting in what got you here in your God-given ability."