Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The consensus at the 2014 NHL Draft is that it was a three-horse race for No. 1 overall between defenseman Aaron Ekblad and centers Samson Reinhart and Samuel Bennett. Ekblad went to the team that won the draft lottery that year, the Florida Panthers, Reinhart was taken by the Buffalo Sabres who finished last in the league and Bennett ended up going fourth-overall to the Calgary Flames after the Edmonton Oilers opted to pursue center Leon Draisatl with the third-overall pick.
Selecting Reinhart with the second-overall pick was a no-brainer according to Sabres GM Tim Murray. "He was the first player on our list," said Murray at the draft. "He was [first] on our list at our organizational meeting in May. We've tweaked those lists a couple of times, but we didn't tweak [number] one."
What the Sabres and the rest of the scouting community saw in Reinhart, was neatly summarized by Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com. "He can slow it down and speed it up, and his ability to see open passing lanes is a skill that cannot be taught. Reinhart is also a highly proficient finisher who finds space down low to pop off quality wrist shots and bang home second chances. [His] knack for knowing where everyone is at all times could plug into any team’s future plans as a legitimate top line center prospect."
TSN's Craig Button was even more succinct saying "Reinhart beats up opponents with his mind."
Hockey sense and cerebral aspects aside, the NHL is still a very physical game and it was the physical side of the equation for Reinhart that ultimately lead to him spend one final year in junior. The shot over the bow, so to speak, was at the 2014 Sabres Development Camp scrimmage when Zemgus Girgensons plastered Reinhart into the boards with a thundering check that rattled the stations. Welcome to the world of playing against men.
Reinhart would struggle mightily during the Traverse City Tournament, as well as in the preseason and during his short stint with the Sabres to start the season. After nine games with one assist to his credit, he was sent back to Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. "I told him he’s just not heavy enough," said Murray of the demotion at the time. "He’s not strong enough yet. We want him to go back there and get stronger.
“He’s going to have to find a way two or three times a week to slip out on his own and get to the gym and get stronger.”
Reinhart took that challenge to heart while also playing dominant hockey, especially in the 2015 World Junior's. When all was said and done, he finished his junior career and got a quick taste of the AHL playing three games for the Rochester Americans, registering three assists. He came into the Sabres 2015 Development Camp stronger and looked bigger on the ice. He stole the show at the scrimmage with two goals and an assist while leading team Blue to a 5-2 win.
While talking to various prospects over the summer about the camp and scrimmage, Reinhart's name was invariably mentioned as a standout for the camp. "You never know what he's going to do," said d-prospect Anthony Florentino, who played against Reinhart on team Gold. "I don't think of him as a flashy type of player, but once he puts those passes on the tape you wonder 'How did he do that?'
"Some of the plays he made I haven't seen before."
After a summer of workouts, which included trying to improve upon his average skating, Reinhart came into training camp on Friday at 190 lbs. on his 6'1" frame which is probably the size at which he'll play his entire career. What lies ahead for him is yet another near-term challenge, however--sticking on the big club.
Over the course of the last year Reinhart has shown the ability to dominate while playing against his peers, something that bodes well for the future. Near-term, however, he'll need to prove that he can adapt and produce at the NHL-level and a good start for him this season is playing on the third line at a position he's accustomed to--center.
Rochester is always an option should he have trouble adapting, but that "fighting weight" of 190, his improved skating, a familiarity with how the pro game is played and his off the charts hockey sense should keep him in the NHL for the rest of his career.
Building the Buffalo Sabres 2015-16 roster:
LW, Evander Kane C, Ryan O'Reilly RW, Tyler Ennis
LW, Zemgus Girgensons, C, Jack Eichel RW, Jamie McGinn
C, Sam Reinhart
D, Rasmus Ristolainen D, Zach Bogosian
D, Josh Gorges RHD, Cody Franson
G, Robin Lehner