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Blackhawks' Lukas Reichel ‘having fun' playing hockey again after early-season struggles

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Chicago Blackhawks forward Lukas Reichel was promoted to the top line at practice on Tuesday, skating on a line with Connor Bedard and Philipp Kurashev.

The move was partly done to change up the look after a rough 4-0 loss to Minnesota on Sunday. But it's also a reward for Reichel, who's deserving of more ice time.

"I just thought he’s played pretty good lately," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "He’s had some good bursts of speed and shooting pucks. I jumbled the lines a little bit over the course of the last few games and at times, put them together a little bit. I thought they looked good today in practice, and Lukas always also has had some chemistry with Kurashev in the past, too.

"So, just put three young guys that hang out together and spend a lot of time talking together and hopefully that can translate a little bit into something on the ice. They look like they were shooting the pucks and flying around today, so we want to make sure they feel like that tomorrow in the game and hopefully we can see something there."

Reichel has admittedly felt more like himself over the last few weeks since being called back up by Chicago after a month-long stint with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs.

"I feel way better now," Reichel said. "But I think what happened last game was embarrassing, so I always think from game to game and try not to look at the past or future. We've got to be better than the last game, that's for sure."

Reichel played with Bedard for a little bit earlier in the season, but he hasn't gotten an extended look yet with Kurashev, who he had great chemistry with last season. All three of them think the game the same way, and they know they're going to have to be smart defensively.

"Of course I want to score but we are all more offensive guys so we've got to look defensively," Reichel said. "If we're good in the D zone, we get our chances in the O zone."

Reichel has most notably been more physical the last few games, which is something Richardson and Rockford head coach Anders Soresen encouraged him to do more. That's a reflection of his growing confidence.

"That's what we talked about, being hard on the puck and winning battles," Reichel said. "I want to do it every practice and every game. I'm not the strongest guy but I can still go through hands and hit guys and that's what I try to do. I feel like I wasn't doing that earlier in the season or not as much."

Richardson has noticed Reichel improve in that area, too. Message sent and message received.

"Yeah, and just more determined to keep pucks and get pucks," Richardson said. "Even today in practice, stole a few pucks. I think he’s just feeling more confident in his game and sometimes that shows in the physical battles, not just goals and assists.

"That’s a good thing for him to have second-effort battles, just like on that goal by [Andreas Athanasiou] the other day that he created. We need more of that from him and he needs more of that from himself because that’ll allow him to have the puck more. That’s advantageous to him and our team."

Reichel's overall season has been a disappointment, but he has looked more like himself since the call-up. There's still a long way to go, but it's a baby step in the right direction.

"I feel like I'm just having fun," Reichel said. "We're winning more games now than in the middle or earlier in the season. You feel it in practice, the boys are more happier now, and then it's more fun and easier to play if the team plays good. But it definitely helped me, especially for next season too, that I still got it."

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