The excitement was palpable on Friday as Lukas Reichel met with the media after signing a three-year, entry-level contract earlier in the week.
"I'm really proud to be part of the organization," the team's first-round selection from last year's draft said. "I'm so excited and really looking forward to the future with the Blackhawks. I'm just really happy."
Given the strides the already highly-touted prospect has taken in the eight months since he was taken No. 17 overall, the Blackhawks are equally ecstatic.
Reichel finished his season with 27 points (10G, 17A) in 38 games, including a strong second half of the season as Eisbaren Berlin maintained their spot near the top of the DEL. He ranked fifth on the team in scoring as the second-youngest player in Eisbaren's regular lineup and second among players 23 and younger in the entire league.
He did so in a completely new role, too, moving to center in his second German campaign after playing the majority of his career as a winger.
"That was really encouraging this year," said Stan Bowman, Chicago's President of Hockey Operations & General Manager. "When we drafted him, he had played wing but they used him in the middle this year and I think that's a great option for our coaches to have. It's too early to tell whether he'll be an NHL center or not, but I think the fact that he's got some experience there shows that he's got pretty good instincts and hockey sense. He took a nice step forward offensively (too)."
Video: Reichel on signing first contract with Blackhawks
The development of Reichel's game this season goes beyond the stat sheet though. He added nearly 15 pounds of size to his frame before the year began and it was evident in his play. At center, he was able to grow into a more rounded two-way player at both ends of the rink -- a consistent theme the Blackhawks are looking for under head coach Jeremy Colliton's system.
"It's good to have more positions I can play," Reichel said. "That's good for the coaches, I think. I learned how to play more in the D zone and that's helped me a lot."
"He plays the pursuit type game that we were looking for. He's a pretty active player," Bowman said. "You notice him even when he's not scoring. He's involved in the play down low in his own end and even in the offensive zone. He's good at retrieving the puck or pressuring the puck to get it back and then he's got enough skill to make plays. Style-wise, he's going to fit in really nicely with our team."
To see that active style, look no further than a recent film session with player development coach Kendall Coyne Schofield. Among a number of examples of the offensive skill and vision Reichel brings, there's one play that showcases the two-way tools the Blackhawks are already excited about (beginning at the 2:55 mark). At 19, Reichel pins an opposing defenseman, who is twice his age and 25 pounds heavier, in the corner of the offensive end. He pokes the puck loose for a teammate behind the goal and then deftly finds the open space to finish the play seconds later with a backdoor tally.
Video: Reichel video breakdown with Coyne Schofield
Eisbaren Berlin wrapped their year by capturing the DEL title last month with Reichel adding five more points (2G, 3A) in nine playoff games. He immediately joined the German national team at the IIHF World Championship as the second youngest player on the roster. It was his first call to the senior team, but after his two-week performance it certainly won't be his last.
The forward was one of the tournament's top player in the opening days, posting at competition-best five points (2G, 3A) in Germany's first two games. A tough group schedule and brief injury absence slowed his hot start, but Reichel finished as the team's third leading scorer in Latvia en route to a fourth-place finish. It was the highest the Germans have placed since 2010 and just their second time reaching the semifinal round since 1953.
"I think it was a great experience for me and I think it was a great tournament for Germany," he said. "Overall, personally and for the team, I think we played a really good tournament. I'm really happy."
Now, Reichel will take a well-deserved break for a week or two before beginning an offseason workout regimen designed to prepare him for his first NHL training camp this fall. Adding size to his 6-foot frame remains a focus, but the forward also wants to continue to develop every asset of his game.
"I still have to work on everything -- on the ice, off the ice." he said. "I still want to gain weight because the ice is smaller and the league is tougher; it's more like battles in the corners. I have to prepare for that and I have to get stronger this summer."
Regardless if his next step is directly to the NHL or a development stop in the AHL, Reichel and the organization are excited to get his North American career started to continue his upward trajectory towards what hopes to be a very bright future.
"We're going to be aware of the fact that he's just 19 years old," Bowman said of his timeline. "(He's) someone in the next couple years who's going to rise to prominence. It might take him a year or two, but that's OK. We like the skill set that he brings. I think he's going to be a player that's going to help us out in the coming years."
"I can't wait to come over," Reichel said of soon joining his favorite childhood team. "It's a great city and I think a great organization and it's like a dream for me to play in Chicago."
Video: Lukas Reichel's top plays with Eisbaren Berlin