Lukas Reichel may have possessed some hockey ability unlike his fellow teenagers, but make no mistake, he was a still teenager.
That was especially the case when it came to his eating habits. He ate based on what tasted good to him, not what the nutritional values on the packaging read.
“I was never looking at what I eat,” Reichel admitted on Wednesday.
That all changed this offseason. After Reichel’s first pro season in North America, it was apparent to him and the Blackhawks that his greatest need as a player was adding weight and strength to his frame. He proved he could do a lot of special things with the puck, especially with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, but he was too often being knocked off the puck at the NHL level.
Reichel addressed that this spring and summer by following a plan devised by Blackhawks strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman. The priority was to get Reichel to eat smarter and healthier.
Reichel still didn’t necessarily like the foods he was being told to eat — he is still a 20-year-old — but he did eat them because he knew the importance of it. It also helped that he palled around with Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy in Chicago and was introduced to some healthier eating spots around the city.
“He’s a healthy guy, he’s a real professional and I can steal from him,” said Reichel, who joined the Blackhawks rookie team on the ice for its first practice on Wednesday. “I got to eat healthy. It’s not my thing, but I just got to do it for hockey. I like to eat salmon, steak or something like that. I feel good after and it’s good for me.”
Reichel isn’t exactly sure how much he weighed last season (the Blackhawks listed him at 170 pounds), but he feels he’s put on significant weight this offseason. He said he’s been up to 186 pounds at times. On top of that, he does feel a difference health-wise. He feels overall better because he has been more mindful of what he’s putting into his body.
That has shown up on the ice, too.
“I think everything, like conditioning, I feel better, better in shape, stronger, stronger on my skates,” Reichel said. “I feel like I can maybe win more battles, maybe hit some people.”
That’s what the Blackhawks certainly want from Reichel. The question is if he does that and excels in training camp, will he be given that NHL opportunity right away or will he have to return to Rockford for some more seasoning? Blackhawks management doesn’t want Reichel yo-yo-ing between the AHL and NHL this season. The preference is for Reichel to become a permanent NHLer the next time he’s given that chance.
Reichel left no doubt Wednesday what he’s hoping for this season.
“My goal is to play full time in the NHL this season,” Reichel said.
When he was 16 years old, Colton Dach was drafted by the Saskatoon Blades — the same team his big brother, Kirby, played for. When he was 18 years old, Colton was drafted by the Blackhawks — the same team his big brother, Kirby, played for.
The two always figured that, someday, they’d get to line up alongside one another in the NHL.
But it might be even more fun to play against each other. Hell, they might damage the boards the way they damaged the drywall back home.
“Yeah, that would be fun,” Colton said with a big grin. “We’re both pretty competitive, so if that day comes, I’m pretty sure it’d be a pretty good game.”
The trade that sent Kirby to Montreal for the No. 13 pick in the July draft was a stunner, but Colton said the family has no lingering resent toward the Blackhawks about splitting the brothers up. And he still called up his big brother for some advice ahead of this week’s prospect showcase, even though it’s Colton’s second go-around and he’s a lot more comfortable.
“That’s the life of hockey,” Colton said. “You can be on one team one second, and the next second you’re on another team. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m going to embrace the challenge of being on my own and taking on that role.”
So if the Blackhawks do play the Canadiens in the not-too-distant future, with Colton and Kirby going eye-to-eye for a faceoff, who will Mom and Dad be rooting for? And will they be wearing one of those awful stitched-together double jerseys?
“I saw the Tkachuk family did that,” Colton said. “That might be something they would do. But I’d hope they would root for me.”
Cole Guttman had been through college recruitment, but it didn’t prepare him for the NHL equivalent last month.
Guttman became an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16 when his draft rights from the Tampa Bay Lightning expired. He wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It was definitely an interesting experience,” said Guttman, who played center for four years at the University of Denver. “I never really dealt with anything like that. It was a long summer waiting for that Aug. 16 dates. But when that came around, it was definitely exciting to see what was out there, I guess. When Chicago rolled around, it was definitely an exciting day for me.”
Guttman said he had some discussions with the Lightning leading up to the deadline, but he decided it was best to test free agency and choose where he ended up. The Blackhawks won out for a few different reasons.
“Opportunity is huge,” Guttman said. “They said everything I wanted to hear. I think the opportunity will be great. Along with that, just the development side of it, they want to develop their players long term, and that’s one of the things they said right away. For me, I want to play for a while. Developing now at 23 years old is going to be huge for the future and the rest of my career, so I think it’s a great start.”
New Blackhawks prospect Cole Guttman with the finish pic.twitter.com/iObOnRwnfR
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) September 14, 2022
Guttman arrived in Chicago on Sunday in preparation for the week. He joined Jonathan Toews’ captain skates on Monday and Tuesday.
“It was pretty cool,” Guttman said. “It was a great experience. I mean, just seeing guys around the room that I’ve been watching since I was a little kid was pretty unique. It’s just a blast getting to Chicago and knowing everyone.”
Evan Barratt was a very productive college hockey player, scoring 39 goals in 98 games over three seasons at Penn State. But as he enters the start of his third professional season — well, second-and-a-half, as he pointed out, because of the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 AHL campaign — he’s evolved into more of a grinder. He still had 14 goals and 14 assists in 63 games with the IceHogs last season, but he projects as more of a bottom-six guy in the NHL.
“Yeah, you’ve got skill guys in college versus actual skill guys,” Barratt said with a chuckle. “You’ve got Reichel, who’s one of the better players I’ve ever played with. He’s all skill. But I think my skill’s in different areas. Maybe he wishes he had some things that I could do, and I obviously wish I had things that he can do. My skill’s always been in the hard-nosed, around-the-net, tight areas. That’s what I do. In college, a lot of my goals were around the net. So I don’t think I’ve really changed as a player, I’ve just matured a lot.”
Horse 6-foot, 187 pounds, Barratt’s hardly a pushover. But he said he put on a few pounds over the summer as he prepares for the grind of a full season — and just to survive these five days at Fifth Third Arena against his fellow prospects.
“I’m not a small guy by any means, but I think a couple of extra pounds is going to help me win battles,” he said. “I don’t think we have a D-man under 6-foot-4 out there.”
(Top photo of Lukas Reichel: Melissa Tamez / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)