All the pre-draft hype and post-draft talk is over. Sam Reinhart was actually in the flesh and on the ice Monday at First Niagara Center.
All eyes were trained on the Buffalo Sabres’ most highly touted draft pick in 27 years during the first day of the team’s summer development camp, and it was readily obvious why Reinhart was tabbed the No. 2 overall choice two weeks ago in Philadelphia.
These were only drills, not full-scale game action like the team will stage downtown tonight at 7. But Reinhart showed plenty of the slick skating and shifty hands that made him a junior sensation in Canada the last two years.
The draft process is draining on all top picks and Reinhart is no exception. They’re most comfortable on the ice doing their thing.
“It was great,” Reinhart said of Monday’s pair of practice sessions. “It was a thrill to have that all over with and finally come here. It’s a lot more comforting knowing all that’s over and you can really get down to business, enjoy the week and the first experience at an NHL level. I’m just kind of taking it in stride and enjoying the process.
“It went well. Most of the guys at this stage of their development over the course of summer are trying to get better every day and continuing to work. From yesterday to today to tomorrow we’re going to continue to get better and more comfortable on the ice and more familiar with each other.”
Winger Brendan Lemieux, the Sabres’ second-round pick, ran several 2-on-1 drills with Reinhart and was duly impressed.
“Everyone knows how good he is. What separates him from everybody else is how smart he is,” said Lemieux, the son of longtime NHL veteran Claude Lemieux. “That’s his strongest asset. He’s a really smart kid. Obviously it’s exciting for me to be out there with guys like that. That’s the kind of caliber I want to be with. I want to surround myself with the best players in the world.”
The Sabres were actually on the ice Sunday doing some testing but Monday’s sessions were the first time the public and media could spy the prospects showing off their wares.
Having 12 first- or second-round picks on the ice was certainly impressive, and there was no doubt to regular observers that the tempo and intensity was a cut above previous years’ summer camps.
“It’s a process and the organization seems to be doing the right things to be getting much better as a group,” Reinhart said. “It really starts not just on the NHL roster but in these camps as well, developing and getting better each day.”
Reinhart said he was happy to be on the ice, another item checked off his to-do list in the wake of signing his first pro contract on Saturday. The three-year deal has a base salary at the entry-level maximum of $925,000 per season.
“It was really exciting and an honor for me to be signed by this organization. I’m really thankful for that,” Reinhart said. “At the end of the day, it’s one step closer to my ultimate goal. And my goal is to be here and to make an impact. It makes me feel more comfortable and gives me some confidence out there.”
Reinhart tried to deflect a question about whether he felt a roster spot was his to lose, given his draft status.
“I wouldn’t really put it that way,” he said. “In my mind, I’m thinking if I come and play the way I’m capable of playing, I feel confident I can earn a spot and make an impact.”
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen played with Reinhart for parts of two seasons with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League and said he’s noticed plenty of improvement from the 2011-12 season, when Reinhart posted 62 points in 67 games as a 16-year-old.
“Just seeing how much better he is now really encouraging,” said Lieuwen, who agreed with Lemieux’s take on Reinhart’s on-ice acumen. “That’s the biggest thing for him. He knows where to be on the ice. He’s got such a hockey sense. That’ll help him in the long run for sure.”
University of Michigan center J.T. Compher, a second-round pick in 2013 back for his second camp with the Sabres, played against Reinhart in a pair of Under-18 World Championships.
He is fired up about being in the same organization.
“I knew what he was about. I was excited when they made that pick,” said Compher, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. “I think he’s going to be a great guy for this organization. Very hard-working, humble kid and that’s exactly what I’ve seen from him. Quiet guy but very confident on the ice and makes very smart plays.”
Reinhart’s first game setting comes in tonight’s open scrimmage, where you can expect a few thousand Sabres fans to be scrutinizing every move by their new No. 23.
“Everyone’s excited for it,” Reinhart said. “It’s been talked about quite a bit so we’re looking forward to it. It’s the one day of the week everybody is really looking to get into.”