Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Prior to the great thoroughbred race between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel known as "McEichel" at the 2015 NHL Draft there was the Battle of Sams for the Buffalo Sabres.
Buffalo finished last in the league and was looking at the second-overall pick in the 2014 Draft after losing the lottery to the Florida Panthers.
The 2014 NHL Draft was considered a horse race between three players at the top of Central Scouting's list--C, Sam Bennett, D, Aaron Ekblad and C, Sam Reinhart. The Panthers, who had been bottom-dwellers in the league for most of the previous four seasons, had been stocking up on forwards since picking defenseman Eric Gudbranson in 2010 with the 3rd-overall pick. There was a good chance were taking Ekblad at the draft and sure enough, that's what they did. He went on to win the 2015 Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.
For Buffalo Sabres fans, the debate raged over which Sam the Sabres should take. Both were considered to be at the top of the heap of forwards, but were stylistically different in their on-ice mannerisms.
Bennett was a motor that ran hard and fast for sixty minutes and CSS considered him a clone of Hockey Hall of Famer, Doug Gilmour. Wrote NHL Director of Amateur Scouting, Dan Marr, "There are guys who elevate their game when it matters most, and you're looking to project which players will do that consistently at the next level. The guys we have at the top all are in that mold, but when we look at Sam Bennett we see a guy who could potentially have a Jonathan Toews type of career."
Reinhart, on the other hand, had a different approach. TSN Draft Analyst Craig Button said, "[he will] beat you with his mind," then went on to make a pretty lofty comparison to a Hall of Famer saying, "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."
The Sabres drafted Reinhart. Kevin Devine, Sabres head amateur scout at the time, said that one really doesn't appreciate just what Reinhart brings to the table unless you watch him play a few times. "[Reinhart's] got a very subtle game," said Devine at the time. "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."
Bennett played a different style. CSS considered him a clone of Hockey Hall of Famer, Doug Gilmour. Wrote NHL Director of Amateur Scouting, Dan Marr, "There are guys who elevate their game when it matters most, and you're looking to project which players will do that consistently at the next level. The guys we have at the top all are in that mold, but when we look at Sam Bennett we see a guy who could potentially have a Jonathan Toews type of career."
As the draft ended and the their careers were about to take shape. Both were in camp in 2014 and both looked like they'd make their respective rosters. Bennett had a good Calgary Flames camp but injured his shoulder and was out for months to begin the 2014-15 season. The shoulder had been ailing him for some time, but he chose to hide it. "I guess, really, I wanted to play and I'd do anything to make the team and to play in the NHL this year," Bennett said (via NHL.com.) "I guess maybe I should've come up sooner but I didn't think it was that big of deal. I guess it is a bit bigger of a deal than I thought."
Reinhart made the Buffalo Sabres out of camp in 2014 and proceeded to play in nine games before being sent to his junior club. Sabres GM Tim Murray said of the move, "I told him, he’s just not heavy enough. He’s not strong enough yet.
"I know he can go back [to juniors] and be a 120-point guy in a full season, playing three-quarters speed. But that’s not what we want him to do. We want him to go back there and get stronger."
When Bennett returned from injury he was sent to junior and after his Kingston Frontenacs were eliminated from-post season play, Calgary called him up for the last regular season game where he registered his first NHL point--an assist just :33 seconds into the game. He proceeded to play in 11 playoff games for the Flames tallying three goals and one assist while never looking out of place, even in the intense post-season action.
Reinhart finished up with the Kootenay Ice and was sent to Rochester for their final three games of he season. He registered three assists and looked as if he was ready to play at the NHL-level.
Both Bennett and Reinhart are a part of an extremely strong rookie class in the NHL. Names like McDavid and Eichel, Chicago's 24 yr. old rookie, Artemi Panarin, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, the Arizona Coyotes' Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, as well as Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues.
Panarin would go on to score a goal in the first game of the season on his first ever shot. Duclair registered a hat trick on October 14, 2015 in the 'Yotes third game of the season.
This past Sunday, Reinhart scored his first NHL hat trick as he helped the Sabres snap a six-game losing streak with a win in Winnipeg. Not to be outdone, Bennett scored is first NHL hat trick last night and added a fourth goal just for good measure.
Although it's highly doubtful Bennett and Reinhart are playing a game of one-up with each other, it's fun for fans to watch these two develop while hoisting a particular flag in favor of one or the other. Bennett got the jump on Reinhart with last season's playoffs success and was having a decent year, while Reinhart started out slow and has really begun to ramp up his game. Right now both players have 19 points on the season--Bennett has 10 goals and nine assists while Reinhart has 12 goals and seven assists.
Methinks we'll have another 10+ years to debate that as their long careers slowly unfold.
But right now, grab some popcorn.