The Edmonton Oilers development conundrum with former fourth overall pick Griffin Reinhart has once again reared its ugly head. Injuries on their backend have decimated them. Earlier this week, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli recalled Dillon Simpson, and now David Musil. That got folks talking and wondering two things: 1) why Reinhart wasn’t recalled and 2) if others are starting to pass him on the depth chart.
The 22-year-old defenseman was a fourth overall pick by the New York Islanders in 2012 and was highly touted in a loaded draft class of defenders. Reinhart drew comparisons to Shea Weber and Duncan Keith. Hence, his draft stock skyrocketed to a can’t-miss pick. He had an outstanding junior career capped off by winning the 2014 Memorial Cup as captain of the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings, but his professional career has been a struggle.
So what is going on here between the Oilers & Reinhart?
Simpson, Musil Recalled from Bakersfield
The Oilers, as mentioned, have been decimated by injuries on the backend. Brandon Davidson, Eric Gryba, Darnell Nurse and now Mark Fayne are all on the injured reserve (IR), forcing the Oilers to make some moves. Simpson and Musil were recalled in their place, bypassing the highly touted Reinhart.
Simpson, 23, made his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. He isn’t an offensive dynamo; he has just one assist in 12 AHL games this season, which puts him seventh in Condors scoring by a defenseman – behind Reinhart.
Musil, 23, is the Oilers’ second-round pick in 2011 (31st overall) and has played just four NHL games in that time. He’s more of a stay-at-home defender, and his career high came last year. It was a dismal 14 points in 67 AHL games. This year, he has six points in 16 AHL games, has been one of the Condors’ more steady and consistent defenders and is on pace to score 27 points as a Condors defenseman. The Musil recall is based on merit; he’s deserved this opportunity with the big club.
Musil will have to wait to make his season debut; he was a healthy scratch. For what it’s worth when he’s playing with Bakersfield, he’s ironically been Simpson’s defense partner for the most part in the Condors top four.
Neverending Negative Connotations for Reinhart
Circling back to Reinhart, there are so many negative connotations that will always be attached to him, but we need to move past them. When Chiarelli and the Oilers acquired Reinhart, Islanders GM Garth Snow had several blue-chip prospects (Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan, etc.). Snow saw Reinhart as an expendable commodity and sold high. The Oilers paid a hefty price with the 16th and 33rd overall picks in the 2015 NHL Draft to acquire Reinhart — not his fault.
Those picks ended up being Mathew Barzal and Mitch Stephens (selected by Tampa Bay). Barzal is currently at selection camp with Hockey Canada for the WJC and Stephens has 28 points in 22 games as captain of the Saginaw Spirit. That trade is looking worse as time goes on. Reinhart has been limited to just eight AHL games this season due to injuries but has been working his way back up the Condors lineup. His last three games have been on the top pairing with either Musil or Joey LaLeggia.
Another negative connotation attached to Reinhart is how high he went in the draft. In reality, once draft day is over it doesn’t even matter where or if you were picked. Same thing had happened with Thomas Hickey (fourth Overall – 2007) before he broke out as a serviceable NHL defenseman.
If you want to understand the madness in how he went so high, think about this; if I told you there was a big bodied 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound bruising defenseman that had a cannon of a shot, solid shutdown abilities and was serviceable to his junior team in every situation, wouldn’t you be interested?
Scouts jumped all over Reinhart and being featured as a top defenseman at a premier event like the 2012 Memorial Cup only added fuel to the fire. He played well and, naturally, when you add both those two things together, his stock was sure to skyrocket.
A lot of onus falls on Reinhart and he has failed to live up to his end of the bargain, but the price Edmonton paid to acquire him is something that’s tough to live up to especially if both Barzal and Stephens pan out for their respective teams.
What Does It All Mean?
It’s hard to write off a 22-year-old defenseman, nor is it time to take them behind the woodshed, especially one with Reinhart’s upside. He’s got the intangibles to be an NHL defenseman with great size and hockey sense. The reality is we need to stop seeing him as Shea Weber 2.0 and more of the No. 4 defenseman he could still become.
You can make a lot out of the fact that Simpson, Musil, Jordan Oesterle, Matt Benning and even Joey LaLeggia are pushing for NHL minutes. But all those guys have played nearly double the games this season (the exception being Oesterle) than Reinhart has. They’ve got a sample size for Chiarelli and Oilers head coach Todd McLellan to draw from; Reinhart doesn’t.
When training camp started this fall, Reinhart was in competition for one of the No. 6-7 spots on the Oilers’ blue line. He struggled in camp, despite ending the year in Edmonton last season. McLellan wasn’t happy about it, and the organization took a very public stance that it’s time for Reinhart to wake up and take the next step.
Edmonton’s talent evaluation has been weak for a very long time, and the overvaluing on Reinhart is the exclamation mark on this. Then again, the Oilers’ defense improved drastically over the last two summers with Andrej Sekera, Adam Larsson and Kris Russell being added and Oscar Klefbom taking the next step.
Depth is one of the factors working against, but also in favor of, Reinhart’s development. The No. 5-6 spot in Edmonton is crowded with Nurse (another young defenseman), Davidson (a defenseman toiling in the No. 4-5 spot that was undervalued), Fayne (a bad contract) and Benning (a signing that’s done surprisingly well in a small sample).
What Reinhart needs to work on are his foot speed, transition game and puck mobility. These are things that are best served to be addressed with a full year in the AHL. It’s far too early to bring up Reinhart when it’s clear he needs more time to develop. He had stretches during his 29 games in Edmonton last year where he looked like he was ready but his one assist, poor advanced statistics and protected usage have proven otherwise.
Give this kid a break, let him develop and give him some time to put it together over long stretches with the Condors. Playing top-pairing minutes in Bakersfield is the best thing for his development, even if that means he doesn’t come up to Edmonton until later in the season.