Buffalo - June 19, 2014 - The NHL Draft is rapidly approaching and there are three prospects vying for the top spots: Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice, Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs and Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts.
Holding the first pick in the draft, it is widely believed that if they don’t deal the pick, the Florida Panthers will take Ekblad, the defenseman. He’s big, mobile and has franchise potential from the back end.
For Buffalo Sabres fans, though, the real question is “who to take at #2?”
Really, the team is in a position where screwing this up is going to be difficult. Both Bennett and Reinhart have been ranked as the top player in this draft before and either could potentially go first if the Ekblad-to-Florida rumors are a smoke screen.
But as good as Bennett is, the Sabres need to take Sam Reinhart. And here’s why.
Reinhart, the captain of his team, is revered for his leadership abilities. He’s already mature beyond his years and has the makings of a longtime captain.
If you’ve been following the Sabres for the last few years, you’re aware that leadership has always been something of an issue. Not that they didn’t have any leaders. Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Steve Ott and others were all fine leaders, it’s just that they never had a definitive leader. There were always shared captaincies or wonders over who, if anyone, would take the role. They haven’t had a definitive captain since Chris Drury left town. With Reinhart, management can hand him that “C” in a couple of years and expect him to hold it a decade.
The one thing that is constantly mentioned about Reinhart is the way he thinks the game. He sees plays develop, reading and assessing them quickly to put himself in a position to succeed. Not only that, but he’s got the ability to discern and relay information from the coaches and get it to the other skaters on the ice. Coaches can never get enough of players like that.
More so, the greats of the game have the ability to see the game at a slower pace, break it down and take advantage of it. Reinhart has that ability. The skills can all be there, but without a good head on one’s shoulders, none of that matters.
Having said all of that, he also earns rave reviews for his game away from the puck. He shows a good understanding of where he needs to be at all times whether he’s got the puck or not and the finding an elite-level scorer who knows what to do in his own zone doesn’t exactly grow on trees.
Did I mention he’s an elite-level scorer? In his three full seasons for the Ice, he’s increased his goals, assists and points total, topping out at 105 points in just 60 games this season. Reinhart has shown he can score himself (he had 36 goals this past year and 35 the year before) but his playmaking skills have really taken off.
With the ability to set up anyone at any time, Reinhart has that rare skill of making his teammates better and that’s how you know you’ve got a truly great player. Getting his own points is fine and well, but when he can improve those around him? There aren’t a lot of those guys in existence.
Always Take the Center
Lastly (and most importantly): when you’re presented with the opportunity to take a top center, you do it. Top line centers don’t grow on trees and they are constantly a premium commodity around the league.
As a matter of fact, there are probably only a dozen true #1 centers in the NHL today: Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, Claude Giroux, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe Matt Duchene. You could also make a case for Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Kesler, Patrice Bergeron and maybe Henrik Sedin. That’s 17; barely more than half the teams in the league and two of those guys belong to the Penguins.
There are a lot of good #2 centers in the league, but that elite, top-of-the-line center doesn’t come around nearly that often and it’s even harder to find one that has staying power (Eric Staal, I’m looking at you). Reinhart is that elite center who can be a dominant player for a decade.
With all due respect to Sam Bennett, it’s clear that the Sabres need an impactful leader who has the skill to be a dominant center for many, many years. So start stitching up that #23 Sabres jersey, boys. We won’t be on the clock for long.
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