Buffalo - August 5, 2014 - We’re still about two months out from actual NHL hockey (the horror!), so there’s still a lot of time and boredom left to deal with.
As a Sabres fan, there isn’t a ton to look forward to even when the season starts. Instead, the eye is constantly towards the future. Everyone knows the Sabres aren’t winning any time soon, but the good part of being so bad is that they have a plethora of talented youngsters who will theoretically turn the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender for many years to come.
We’ll take a look at the top prospects in the Sabres system and all of the dirty details on each, starting today with the top prospect in the Sabres system: Sam Reinhart.
How we got him: It took being one of the worst offensive teams in NHL history and a last-place finish by a mile and a half, but the Sabres managed to land the…second pick in the draft. Fail epically and still can’t even land the first overall pick. Welcome to Buffalo.
Still, landing the second pick wasn’t all that bad because it netted Reinhart. Honestly, at second overall, the Sabres were pretty hard-pressed to screw the pick up but they got the top forward in the draft and a future top center; those things don’t just grow on trees.
Comparable Sabre of the Past: Pat Lafontaine. That’s a pretty high mark to set for Reinhart given the fact that Lafontaine is only a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and one of the greatest players to ever suit up for the franchise.
Hopefully, Reinhart can avoid the nasty part of Lafontaine (the concussion issues, the early ending to his career) and focus on the good things: the fantastic leadership (Lafontaine served as captain from 1992-97), his status as an undisputed star until the aforementioned injuries derailed things and the offensive tools that made him one of the game’s best scorers for the first half of the ‘90s.
Settin’ the bar high from the get-go, Sam.
Why he may be awesome: Where to start? He’s got the bloodlines to succeed: dad Paul was a high-scoring defenseman in the 1980s, brother Max plays in the Flames organization as does brother Griffin, a top-five pick of the New York Islanders in 2012.
He’s got the size to hold up to the grind of the NHL lifestyle (6’1” 185). You can’t teach size and having it is better than not. You don’t want to have a guy who is constantly a threat to be smeared along the boards (like Lafontaine).
Another underrated factor that comes with Reinhart is the fact that he’s showing strong leadership even as an 18-year-old. He’s captain of his junior team, was captain of Team Canada at the 2013 U18 Worlds and was the captain of Team Cherry at the 2014 CHL Top Prospects game. The Sabres went through a long stretch where there were no clearly defined leaders, so finding a player like Reinhart who is not only talented, but also a fantastic leader is something that will benefit the franchise.
Then there’s the actual on-ice stuff. He’s one of those guys who seems to see the game faster than everyone else and possesses a very high hockey-IQ. Coaches clamor for guys like him who can basically act as a coach on the ice, getting everyone where they need to be and knowing what they need to do which ties into the whole leadership thing, too. Oh yeah, he’s also a top-flight playmaker with the kind of ability to make his linemates better. He’s about as complete a package as you could hope for in a top prospect.
Why he may not be so great: Honestly, it’s really hard to find anyone with a negative thing to say about Reinhart or his game. One ESPN insider scouting report says his skating is only “average” and that he’s not that big of a player. The latter is fine; it’s not everyone’s style to be a big masher. As for the former, there isn’t universal criticism of his skating ability, but there haven’t been a lot of “average” claims thrown around.
Other than that? It’s nothing but love for young Sam.
Ceiling: Very high. He’s been on the radar for a long time now and was in the running for the top overall pick in this past draft right up until Aaron Ekblad’s name was called first. He’s mature beyond his year and has the skill set to be a standout player in the league. Throw in the fact that he’s got a good frame, strong leadership abilities and shows some promise on the defensive end and the Sabres have themselves a franchise center before they get a shot at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
General excitement level: Through the roof. First of all, the Sabres hadn’t picked this high in the draft since they took Pierre Turgeon first overall in 1988. Secondly, he pretty much gets universal praise for his offensive abilities and, oh yeah, people love him as a leader and for his potential defensive work. He’s hands down the best prospect the Sabres have had in 25 years and is on a very short list of the most exciting Sabres rookies ever.
What to expect: I was originally in the camp that wanted Reinhart to just return to juniors for the 2014/15 season, but with him signing his entry-level deal that isn’t likely. I can see him getting the same treatment Nathan MacKinnon got in Colorado: coddling as a protected third-line center with power play opportunities and a chance to rise up the depth chart depending on his performance.
Reinhart will be given every opportunity to not fail next year before being unleashed in 2015/16. This coming season will be about flashes: of potential, of youthful inexperience, of what’s to come.
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