Sunday, June 8, 2014

Craig Button has another lofty comparison for Sam Reinhart

Reprinted from hockeybuzz with permission.

The book on Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart unabashedly raves about the 18 yr. old's hockey sense. It's an aspect of his game that is so strong and well defined that scouts and draftniks can't help but be captivated by it.

Buffalo Sabres AGM/Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine seemed enamored with Reinhart's hockey IQ saying that he hadn't seen anything like it in 10-15 years. The direct quote from his appearance on WGR's Howard Simon Show goes like this:  "I don't know that I've seen a guy that can make plays like Sam can in the last 10 to 15 years...his playmaking ability. That's the thing that stands out for him. He sees the ice really well. Knows how long to hold the puck, when to pass it, when to shoot it...just uncanny hockey sense."

Devine stressed the same thing a bit later that same interview, "I haven't seen a guy that can make plays like Sam with the puck, in the playmaking sense, over the last 10 to 15 years.

TSN draft "expert" and former NHL GM Craig Button was on WGR yesterday talking about the draft in general and spent a good portion of the interview talking about Reinhart, his wire to wire top prospect.

Button has a great job in the hockey world as an analyst. He's an upbeat-kinda guy and is genuinely enthusiastic about the sport itself and his role in it.

The 2014 NHL Draft, according to most, is looking rather average, especially coming off of a strong 2013 draft year. According to Button, it's because "[this draft] doesn't have superstars and a lot of times a draft gets defined by the top end." But "when you're talking about the draft being about recognizing potential, what this draft does have is a lot more unfinished product than in previous drafts."

Regardless of the consensus, the Buffalo Sabres should be in line to get themselves a star-quality/impact player with the second overall pick. And they'll be using an expanded group of scouts lead by Devine and GM Tim Murray to (hopefully) land a few quality "unfinished products" with their picks after #2. The Sabres hold five of the first 61 picks in the draft.

Up-top, there is an array of players available each with different styles, size, skills and potential. The Sabres are looking to grab a cornerstone player and with holes throughout their roster, a case could be made for any of the consensus top-three prospects.

Would they have the opportunity to nab a Shea Weber-type defenseman in Aaron Ekblad? How about some Doug Gilmour-like skill and sandpaper in F, Sam Bennett?

Or how about Reinhart, who's been compared to Chicago's Jonathan "Captain Serious" Toews?

Button may get lost in his enthusiasm at times and he does have a tendency to exaggerate certain aspects of players, but Reinhart's hockey IQ is universally regarded as extremely high. All of his top three prospects have "big-time competitiveness and big-time hockey-smarts," he said, but Reinhart, unlike the others, will "beat you up with his mind."

He said the same thing back in mid-April, using Quebec/Colorado great, Hall of Famer, Joe Sakic as a comparable:  "Reinhart might not have the same physical edge as Bennett," said Button, "but he beats up opponents with his mind. If you look at players like Joe Sakic over the years, Sakic didn't have an edge. All he did was, he had a surgeon's scalpel. He'd cut your heart out."

That's a pretty lofty comparison.

Yesterday Button came up with another one:  "Star-wise I hear people say David Krejci, I guess I can see some of the similarities. But the guy he reminds me of is Hall of Famer, former Montreal great Jacques Lemaire. Jacques Lemaire didn't have a lot of flash to him. [He] won eight Stanley Cups. [He] understood where everybody was on the ice. He understood what a player needed, understood when a player needed the puck. He understood how to get the most out of his linemates. He understood what plays needed to be made--offensively, defensively. [There were] so many different things that made Jacques Lemaire an exceptional player. Those are the same things that Sam Reinhart possesses."

There are a lot of hockey fans here who weren't born, or were too young to remember just what Lemaire brought to the table (although they're familiar with Krejci.) Button certainly did, as did those who were around the game back then like legendary hockey writer, Red Fisher.

Here's an excerpt from a piece by Fisher, posted in The Gazette, October 9, 2009. He was doing the top-20 players he had covered during a long, distinguished career that began in 1954.

Lemaire came in at #12.

"[Lemaire] was the complete package," wrote Fisher. "always in control of his game, scoring the big goals, making the big pass, always doing the right thing, killing penalties. No player I have known studied the game harder."

The Sabres' Devine was born in 1954, was in midget hockey when Lemaire won the first of his eight Stanley Cups in 1968, and was a WHA veteran with Quebec when Lemaire won his last Cup in 1979. One would think that Devine has a pretty good idea as to what the Hall of Famer was all about.

Direct comparison or not Devine had this to say after watching Reinhart at the World Jrs., (via,) "[Reinhart's] got a very subtle game. If you watch him only once or twice you say 'What's the big deal?' but when you continue to watch him, you see how smart a player he is. He's a real character kid."

Whether Reinhart reaches those lofty comparisons is another story. But adding a smart, rock-solid character guy with a skill package to put up 105 points in 60 junior games isn't a bad idea for a rebuilding organization.

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