Kristian Reichel was just three-years-old when his father Robert joined the Maple Leafs for the final three seasons of his NHL career, but the experience in Toronto is one he still looks at fondly as looks to embark on his own pro career.
Toronto’s Air Canada Centre is where Kristian Reichel learned to skate after Robert was traded to the Maple Leafs in June 2001.
“It was a great experience: the dressing room, the hockey games - it was really nice to have a dad that played in the NHL and you can feel it that the NHL is next level and it’s the best league in the world,” said Kristian Reichel.
“I remember before the game, every game he took me with him on Saturdays on the ice and I was skating on the ice at ACC and it was great.”
Originally selected in the fourth round of the 1989 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames, Robert Reichel’s 830 game NHL career included stops with the Flames, Islanders and Coyotes before he wrapped up the North American portion of his career with the Leafs.
“He started skating there,” recalled Robert Reichel from his home in Litvinov in the Czech Republic. “Then he went for practice most Saturdays or Sundays (at the Air Canada Centre). “When he went to kindergarten he went for skating lessons because he didn’t skate well yet. Everything improved and obviously it was the right step in Toronto, big city, hockey city.”
Kristian Reichel returned to North America this season with the hopes he too could have a lengthy NHL career. Selected in the first round of the 2017 CHL Import Draft by the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, Reichel decided the time was right to move to Canada since he’d completed his education in the Czech Republic.
The six-foot-one, 167-pound centre joined Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels and finished second in team scoring with 34 goals and 57 points in 63 games.
Sutter is no stranger to the Reichel family, his own NHL career crossed paths with Robert Reichel’s in the ‘90s.
“Dad had a good shot, Kristian shoots the puck well,” Sutter said comparing the father and son. “Different types of skaters. Kristian’s dad was a smart player, Kristian is a smart player. The biggest thing with Kristian is he just needs to get stronger.
“He brings a lot of elements that you really like: he works hard, he’s very responsible, he can shoot the puck, he can contribute offensively. He just needs to continue to work on his strength.”
Robert Reichel said about his son’s first season overseas: “I would say he enjoyed it. He tried to get on the small ice rink. He was ready for it and he enjoyed every minute he played there.”
The 20-year-old is described as a highly intelligent forward with a smoothness to his game that is tough to ignore. Reichel has good vision with the puck and gets his passes on the tape consistently. He is a deceptively quick skater and has a heavy shot that he can pick corners with.
The toughest part of the 72-game WHL schedule for Reichel came off the ice.
“That was the bad thing about the WHL: the travelling, it’s so hard,” he said. “The (road) trips are so big and that was the hardest part coming over to the WHL, but I mean now I feel stronger about that. After a couple weeks, a couple trips, it wasn’t too hard for me.”
On the ice, Reichel’s adjustment to the smaller rinks and faster decision-making came easy since he first learned the game growing up in Toronto.
“It didn’t take long for him at all because he’s a pretty responsible player,” said Sutter. “He put up some really good numbers here, but he defended well too. I like how he plays on both sides of the puck.”
Internationally, Reichel represented the Czech Republic at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
Led offensively by Carolina Hurricanes prospect Martin Necas, and potential top-3 pick Filip Zadina, the Czechs surprised many by defeating Russia 5-4 in the tournament’s opening game and then edged Finland 4-3 in the quarter-finals.
“We had a great tournament, we had a pretty good team, we surprised a lot of teams who didn’t believe in us,” said Reichel. “We beat lots of good teams like Russia and Finland. We were close to the medal, but USA and Canada are still so far away from us and we have lots of respect for them because they’re always beating us.”
Reichel finished the tournament with three goals and an assist in seven games. The native of Litvinov believes the country has taken huge strides in the game in recent years.
“We are getting closer every year,” Reichel said. “We have lots of draft picks now and they’re progressing, they’re starting to beat teams like Canada and USA, but when it comes to world juniors, Canada and USA are so far from us.
“We are starting to build this new era, but it will take us time for us to be in the medal place.”
Projected as a third line forward that can provide secondary scoring at the NHL level, Reichel tries to model his game after the likes of Tyler Bozak, David Krejci and Tomas Plekanec.
As he looks to take the next step in his career, Reichel, a centre, will need to work on getting stronger as he can get knocked off the puck too easily at times. A late bloomer, Reichel is in his second year of NHL draft eligibility, but has the potential to be an effective player at the next level.
“The biggest thing with Kristian is he just needs to get stronger,” said Sutter. “I just think continue working on getting quicker, his skating maybe to some degree, but getting stronger. Once he gets stronger, a lot of things are going to come very easy to him.”
Reichel is ranked No. 95 on ISS Hockey’s list of the top 200 players available for this month’s draft in Dallas while NHL Central Scouting ranked him 53rd amongst North American skaters.
Robert Reichel is proud of his 11-year NHL career, which included an Olympic gold and three World Championship gold medals, but is hoping his son can accomplish the one feat that alluded him.
“In Calgary I had great years, the same in New York and then I went to Phoenix for a little bit and finished my career in Toronto,” Reichel said. “Every team was something special. But I’m still missing the Stanley Cup, basically what I was playing for. I hope Kristian can make the NHL, and I hope he gets a chance to win it for me.”