Since the beginning of general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman’s tenure, he has tirelessly worked towards building up the Detroit Red Wings’ defense. His first draft pick as GM was Moritz Seider, an off the board pick that has since developed into the team’s undisputed top defender. Two years later, Yzerman drafted Simon Edvinsson, a towering Swedish defenseman that projects to be come the team’s top offensive defenseman sooner rather than later. And when coaching got in the way of the team’s defensive progress, Yzerman removed Jeff Blashill and hired Derek Lalonde with the expectation that the first-year head coach would improve the team’s defensive structure. Oh, and the Red Wings’ prospect pool is filled with defense prospects, especially of the left-handed variety.
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Needless to say, Yzerman understands the importance of strong defense.
With the ninth pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, the Red Wings are almost guaranteed to add a quality prospect. There are a number of forward prospects that should be available when it is their turn to make a selection, and some of them would address some legitimate needs within Detroit’s system. However, one of the team’s biggest deficiencies is the amount of quality right-handed defensemen in their prospect pool. Their depth chart on the right side of the blue line is currently headlined by Seider, but then it falls off immediately after him. Luckily, the Red Wings could have a couple of options available to them that would improve their depth on the right side and, if all goes well, cement an elite defensive core that would be the envy of almost every other team in the NHL.
One such prospect is David Reinbacher, an Austrian defender with all the tools to become another minute-muncher for the Red Wings or whatever team drafts him.
In short, Reinbacher is a tank on the blue line whose overall play style is similar to Seider’s. Reinbacher is a two-way defender capable of making a difference at both ends of the ice, but where he really stands out is just how impressive his defensive game is despite being just 18 years old.
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While playing against men in the Swiss Hockey League this season, Reinbacher displayed a willingness to play a grown man’s game, taking the body and relishing the opportunity to muscle his opponent off the puck. He uses his physicality to force turnovers and create puck battles along the boards. When he comes away with the puck, he makes quick outlet passes to push play in the right direction. While he isn’t overly big in terms of size (6-foot-2, 187 pounds), he uses his frame to his advantage in one-on-one situations. He is already a pain in the you-know-what to play against, and he should only become tougher to play against as he continues to physically mature.
Reinbacher has potential as a playmaker with the puck on his stick. While I wouldn’t call him a legitimate facilitator on offense, he makes good reads at both ends of the ice, allowing him to spring the attack with quick, clean passes. After making the pass, he will jump up and join the attack. He can make plays down low in the offensive zone, but he also shows keen awareness of where the best spot for him is during an offensive possession. He can stop on a dime after entering the offensive zone. From that area, he is ready to unleash a highly effective snap shot from the point. He targets the bottom half of the net with his shots, allowing for tips and rebounds as the puck travels towards the goalie.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Reinbacher’s game is how he uses his stick. He is effective at breaking up plays with one hand on his stick, which is another way that he shows how well he can read the play. He is just as much a menace with his stick as he is with his body in terms of applying pressure to the opposition. In the offensive zone, he makes simple, effective maneuvers with the puck to buy time and space. Cale Makar he is not, but Reinbacher is more than capable of sustaining offensive pressure by moving the puck to open teammates or carrying it into the dangerous areas of the ice.
What Reinbacher Still Has to Work On
Like most young defensemen, Reinbacher can sometimes be a victim of his own confidence. He is generally smart about when he pinches and joins the attack, but he has fallen victim to an ill-timed pinch from time to time. Against NHL-caliber forwards, he would almost certainly be turned inside out if he made those same mistakes. As well as he reads the play, he still has work to do in terms of determining when to be aggressive and when to fall back towards his own zone.
What exacerbates those occasional lapses in judgment is the fact that Reinbacher does not possess elite footspeed. While his footwork is actually pretty good and his overall mobility is what I would consider NHL average, opponents that can attack with speed will be able to catch him flat-footed from time to time, and that does raise some concerns about how well he could defend against the speedsters of the NHL. He has to be positionally sound to prevent being on the wrong side of a breakaway goal.
While Reinbacher can dominate his opponents in the defensive zone, he doesn’t always show that dominating mentality. In fact, there are times where he seems content to sit back and let his defensive partner handle things while he watches from afar. With his skill and physical abilities, you want to see him take charge in the defensive zone. That does not mean he should defend with reckless abandon, but he should be a participant in the play every second he is on the ice. That is not always the case, but it is something that can be coached.
Playing against men as a teenager is always a big positive from a developmental standpoint, but it is also a positive in terms of projecting when a player may be ready to make the jump to the NHL. That is the case with Reinbacher. However, the NHL is leaps and bounds ahead of what he encountered this season in the Swiss league.
Reinbacher is at least a year out from challenging for an NHL spot because of that. It will be interesting to see where he plays next season, and the team that drafts him will almost certainly have a say in where that is. Would a move to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) make sense for the Austrian defender next season? Remember, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2022 draft, Marco Kasper, is another Austrian skater whose development received a big boost from playing in the SHL.
Reinbacher’s Fit with the Red Wings
Again, the Red Wings have a clear need for right-handed defensemen in their system. The future of their blue line already looks good with Seider and Edvinsson in tow, and that’s without mentioning the likes of William Wallinder, Albert Johansson and others. But none of their defensive prospects have a profile quite like Reinbacher’s. In fact, considering the Austrian defender’s two-way prowess and physical play, it’s easy to envision him thriving alongside an offensive-minded defenseman like Edvinsson.
If the Red Wings were to draft Reinbacher, they would cement the kind of long-term defensive depth that championships are built on. If any one of their talented left-handed defense prospects emerge as a long-term option alongside Seider (and that’s without factoring his current partner, Jake Walman, into the equation), they would theoretically have two “top” defense pairings, a luxury that could make up for some of the offense the Red Wings have lost out on through their rotten draft lottery luck.
And, for what it’s worth, it might be nice for Kasper to have a fellow Austrian on the team as well.
Best Player Available
Truth be told, the top-tier of this year’s draft should all be off the board after the fifth pick. After that, there’s a crowd of 15-20 players that are all within the same tier. To say Reinbacher is the best of that bunch may or may not be correct, but I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to suggest he’s the best defenseman available in this year’s draft. In a forward-heavy draft, teams that have a need on defense will want to act quickly and decisively if they want to add a defenseman with top pairing potential.
What Others Are Saying
“Defensively, Reinbacher uses excellent gap control to kill offensive of the rush and in one-on-one situations and his use of his stick is elite. He plays the body well enough and sometimes struggles in international tournaments but in league play Reinbacher isn’t afraid of using his body in puck battle situation and as he grows as a player, I expect this is a tool we will see increasingly.” – Joe Maciag, Recruit Scouting
“Reinbacher is not the most dynamic offensive threat. He prefers to keep his offensive game simple, often getting shots to the net so that the forwards can pounce on ensuing rebounds. With only three goals to go along with 19 assists it’s clear that he isn’t a sniper from the back end. Reinbacher is an efficient passer, again he keeps his game simple so that his forward teammates can produce.” – Caleb Kerney, The Hockey Writers
“Reinbacher’s gap control is quite strong; he kills a lot of plays due to his feet. He can close on guys with his body too, and shows a high compete level to win back pucks. He’s very polished defensively for such a young player, and projects to shut down good NHL forwards.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from “2023 NHL Draft top prospects: Bedard No. 1, Smith rises in Pronman’s May ranking”, The Athletic, May 3, 2023)