Eight days ago the news broke that the Jets had signed undrafted forward Kristian Reichel to a two-year entry-level contract. Reichel was able to turn two one-year AHL deals with the Manitoba Moose the last couple of years into this deal with Winnipeg.
It didn’t come as much of a surprise to me that Reichel had earned himself this contract with the Jets as I wrote in my column about the Moose season concluding due to the pandemic “One player who certainly earned himself another contract is Kristian Reichel who was a Jets Development Camp invitee in 2018 and has subsequently signed with the Moose twice.”.
I had a chance to catch up with Moose head coach Pascal Vincent who has had the opportunity the past couple of years in Manitoba to watch and help Reichel develop as a pro hockey player. He referenced Reichel’s “competitive intelligence” numerous times during our conversation.
One thing I’ve noticed with players like Mason Appleton or Jansen Harkins is they needed to work their way up to be given a chance to have success but with hard work they turned 4th line minutes into 1st line opportunities and eventually up to roster spots with the Winnipeg Jets. It would appear that Kristian Reichel could be following that same path. The first question I asked coach Vincent was about Reichel being able to take the opportunity that he had to earn through hard work.
“A lot of people are given opportunities but it is the people who are able to take advantage of those opportunities are the ones that are sustaining their job or getting other opportunities. Getting a chance is hard, going to a development camp is hard but getting a contract is even harder and earning your ice time is harder. I think what Reich’s has been doing is he’s created those opportunities for himself because we had no choice than to give it to him. He’s just doing the right things all the time. His competitive intelligence is really high. He competes all the time but there’s a way of doing it, in practices, in games, in the gym and how he prepares mentally. He’s got this real mature approach about the game and what needs to be done in order to be successful.”
Of course it could easily go south when playing with limited minutes but Pascal Vincent didn’t see that from the Czech-born forward.
“He was given a chance to play but he had limited minutes, never complained and just worked harder. Some guys it destroys them. They just don’t get it. How am I supposed to perform if I play 10 minutes or eight minutes when I played 20 minutes and I was the best player in junior, I was the best player in college, I was the best player in Europe and now I need to play and prove you I can play with 8-10 minutes. Well ya you do. Nobody gets a freebie. Nobody does. In his case he created those opportunities and when he didn’t play enough, we could tell he wasn’t happy, which was totally fine but at the same time he took responsibility and took some actions and his actions were done the right way. And it isn’t about complaining. Complaining doesn’t give great results, creates conflicts. He just worked harder and harder and harder.”
It also could have easily gone off the rails for Reichel as he sustained an injury in the fourth game of the season for the Moose which costs him almost three months of the season. But his coach didn’t see any lag in his hunger for success. “This year he got an injury and it didn’t stop him. When he came back he didn’t miss a beat. He was ready to go and kept improving, kept improving.”
So much so that just before the AHL season was paused Reichel was playing on the top line alongside 2017 1st rounder Kristian Vesalainen and 2018 2nd rounder David Gustafsson. The team went 3-0-1 during the four game stretch. So why put Reichel on the top line?
“We evaluate players after each game. Kristian had a good game. OK. Then next game Kristian had a good game. After awhile you say maybe we should give him some more. He ended up with Gus and Ves on an offensive line and he was productive. Like I said his competitive intelligence is really high. He knows what to do and he knows what he has to do to be successful so he is using that to his advantage. It created a good line for us. They were our most offensive and they ended up having the most ice time at the end of the year.”
Now Reichel has a two-year ELC with Winnipeg. What does his coach in the AHL think of that?
“I’m not going to bet against him. ‘Cause so far he’s on a mission, he’s getting better and he’s doing it the right way. The way he works in the gym and his intelligence away from the rink as far as having a plan and following the plan, his discipline away from the rink. I’m not going to bet against this guy. I’m not going to tell you he’s going to become just a good American League player, cause sky might be the limit in his case.”
With the AHL season now cancelled it will be awhile before folks in Winnipeg get a chance to see Kristian Reichel back on the ice but you can expect the hard working forward will be using this time to improve himself so he can continue to reach his full potential.