This is the third in a series of prospect profiles leading into the NHL Draft Friday and Saturday.
For a few moments, Sam Reinhart was merely a proud brother. The New York Islanders had just selected Griffin Reinhart with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and Sam was among those giving hugs and handshakes.
As Griffin began walking to the stage in Pittsburgh’s arena, Sam’s outlook changed from smiling sibling to determined individual.
“I think that was the first time I really visualized myself possibly going up there on stage and getting an NHL jersey,” Sam Reinhart said.
The center, who was 16 at the time, already had the talent to get drafted one day. The visualization inspired him to add dedication to the skills. He’s been working in the gym, on the ice and in the interview room for two years, all in an effort to take that same walk toward an NHL jersey.
Odds are good he’ll stroll to the stage even earlier than his brother. Reinhart is a candidate to go first overall in this year’s draft which will be held Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia.
“It’s been a lot of preparation going into it,” he said. “It’s been a few years of really working hard on and off the ice. This year, I’ve spent a lot more time getting in the gym, putting those extra hours in. A guy my age, it’s getting bigger and stronger to play with fully grown men. That’s been something I’ve been looking into and trying to do for quite some time.”
Reinhart fully believes he’s ready to accept a jersey at the draft and wear it again opening night. A recent taste of the professional life gave him additional confidence.
Hockey Canada invited the 18-year-old to participate in its world championship camp last month in Switzerland. He skated alongside NHL players such as Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson, Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau, and Reinhart felt he belonged.
“I would say going up to Switzerland for a few days and playing and practicing with professional guys has set me apart in my confidence level going in,” said Reinhart, who dressed in an exhibition game against the Swiss. “I feel prepared now, and it only motivated me to get more prepared. It was pretty amazing to see how I handled Practice One compared to Practice Three and really picked up the pace and felt comfortable pretty quick.”
The Sabres select second overall at the draft, and they’d certainly be interested in the top-end skill that the 6-foot-1, 186-pounder could provide to their center position. Buffalo interviewed him at the NHL Scouting Combine.
“I think they really challenged me, and I thought I handled it pretty well,” he said. “We certainly learned a lot in that interview.
“The biggest thing is them trying to get a feel for who you are,” Reinhart said of the overall interview process. He sat down with 16 teams. “They’ve all seen you play numerous times, so they know what you’re about on the ice. I think the biggest thing to take away is that I handled myself well in interviews and stayed relaxed the whole way.”
Reinhart’s ability to stay composed and focused is one of his best on-ice attributes. He doesn’t get rattled, which provides a calming effect on his teammates whenever the pressure rises.
“He’s really relaxed and laid back, so that’s a good guy to have around,” said Jake Virtanen, the sixth-ranked prospect who grew up playing against Reinhart. “He can dominate teams just by his hockey IQ.”
Reinhart’s smarts have made him a consistent threat. He totaled 28, 35 and 36 goals during his last three seasons with Kootenay of the Western Hockey League, and he’s racked up 254 points in 203 junior games. He set career highs with 69 assists and 105 points in 60 games this year. He followed that with six goals and 23 points in 13 playoff games.
“He’s one of the best when he’s given an opportunity to capitalize on it,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “If you turn the puck over and you’re not careful, he’s going to burn you. If he gets the chance to score, he’s a good scorer, but his vision, his anticipation, his hockey sense is what sets him apart from a lot of players.”
There’s little doubt Reinhart’s lineage contributes to the unparalleled hockey sense. His father, Paul, played 11 seasons in the NHL, manning the blue line for the Flames and Canucks. Sam will be the third son drafted. Calgary selected defenseman Max Reinhart in the third round in 2010, and the Isles followed with Griffin, a forward, two years later.
“A lot of teams asked if I felt pressure with it,” Sam Reinhart said. “To be honest, it’s the same answer every time. I felt no pressure with it. I actually don’t know what it’s like not having them around, so I try to use it as an advantage.”
All the brothers learned lessons from Paul while they grew up. Sam has had the benefit of watching his brothers try to advance from draftees to NHL players. Max has skated in 19 games with the Flames, while Griffin just spent his fourth season in juniors and will go pro this year.
“In regards to seeing how my brothers have handled things at certain events in their career so far, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch them go through it,” Sam Reinhart said. “They’ve all helped me out in different ways.”
He’ll have to take the next steps by himself. It will start with a stride toward the stage at the draft.
“The goal isn’t to be drafted first, second, third or fourth, although that will be exciting,” Reinhart said. “It’s to have an opportunity to make a team next year and make an impact.”
Next: Leon Draisaitl