While all the talk has been about the Buffalo Sabres 2015 likely second-overall pick Jack Eichel, let’s not forget about last year’s second-overall pick Sam Reinhart. In what will be a very competitive training camp, the former Kootenay Ice standout will look to crack the roster. But, what are the chances he suits up in blue and gold on opening night?
Let’s first consider all of the variables at hand, since a number of to-be-determined events will affect where Reinhart is playing come October. The biggest of which will be this summer’s roster transactions. This is a key component because the 19-year-old forward will not only need to make the roster, but crack the top six.
If there’s not space for him among the top-two lines, it’s unlikely he’s playing in Buffalo straight out of training camp. A skilled player like Reinhart needs to play with talented linemates and get sufficient ice time, including time on the power play in order to grow and develop properly.
General Manager Tim Murray has hinted at the fact he’d like to trade Buffalo second first-round pick for a more developed player. This player would most likely be a forward to round out the teams top-six, which is shaping to include Eichel, Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Evander Kane and Zemgus Girgensons.
However, if such a player is not added to the lineup, that would increase Reinhart’s chances of making the roster. Because of Girgensons versatility, he could shift to the wing to make room for Reinhart to be the team’s second-line center.
Will Reinhart be Strong Enough?
There is no doubting Reinhart’s play-making ability or hockey sense, but where he needs to improve is in his strength. Watching last season’s small sample size of work made it clear that Reinhart needed to get bigger and tougher before he could be successful on a nightly basis and handle the day-to-day grind of the NHL.
Not only will Reinhart need to be able to absorb contact from bigger opponents, he’ll need to show he can win key puck battles and maintain possession when he’s challenged physically. Reinhart’s short stint in the NHL should prove important because it’s made him aware of what he has to do to be an everyday NHLer.
Another big X-factor will be how much stronger and improved Reinhart will be once training camp rolls around. He managed to play a few games with the AHL-affiliate Rochester Americans after his junior season wrapped up. Although it was a very small sampling, he was one of the better players on the ice and showed marked improvement from where he was at last fall.
With that being said, expect the Sabres to add another forward to the mix this offseason and give Reinhart time to develop in Rochester.
There, he can learn the ins and outs of being a pro without all the pressure that comes with playing in the NHL. He’ll have the opportunity to grow and develop with other Sabres prospects who are also able to play in Rochester such as Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey.
But, don’t expect Reinhart to be in Rochester very long. He’ll get at least a few call ups this season and may never relinquish his spot once he’s given another opportunity.