Now that the Sabres are reaching the halfway point of the regular season and also have the next 5 days off, it looks to be the perfect time to review and analyze the hockey club’s progress this season. While we can talk about the team as a whole, I would like (love) to focus the attention towards one player in particular. Samson Reinhart.
Yes, there are a handful of bright spots to look at this year for the Sabres. And yes, Jack Eichel has singlehandedly taken the spotlight here in Western New York ever since he was drafted earlier this year. Lest we forget others on the team also playing extremely well (ie. Ristolainen, O’Reilly). But from what I have watched this year, #23 has surprised the most.
The general consensus knew Ristolainen was going to be great on the blue line. Having Evander Kane (When healthy) was going to be awesome to watch. Not to mention Ryan O’Reilly, who is just averaging .85 points/game this season. But before the preseason, most (including myself) predicted Reinhart would spend most of the year down the road with the Rochester Americans, with a call-up or two throughout the season. But we were all pleasantly surprised as the 20-year-old product out of British Columbia has shown incredible strides so far this season.
After 34 games, Reinhart has effortlessly proven that he is NHL-ready with 8 goals and 7 assists for 15 points on the year. He is also one of three forwards on the current roster that are in the black in the plus/minus statistic. McGinn and Cal O’Reilly being the other two. Looking at that alone shows that #23 is capable of playing a strong game at both ends of the ice.
What’s most impressive of the young man’s game is his willingness and uncanny ability to play hard in the dirty areas of the ice and stay parked in front of the net. At 6’1” and 186 pounds, he isn’t the largest man on the ice, but has proven it to be difficult to move him out from in front of the goaltender’s crease. His most recent goal against the Vancouver Canucks came from not only good positioning, but also great work from Ryan O’Reilly. Samson found open ice in the slot and cycled up to top of the faceoff circle. He then received a pass from a stumbling O’Reilly, and buried a short slapshot over Ryan Miller’s shoulder.
What I noticed most from that goal was that Reinhart was able to create the space he needed on his own. He saw that the Canuck winger was focused down low and was preoccupied with the play behind the Vancouver net. As he cycled back, that drew the center up to the blue line with him, thus opening the center of the ice. Thanks to that and a little bit of timing, #90 came out with the puck and slipped it up to Reinhart, who singlehandedly opened up more than enough space to work with when he received the pass. Knowing that he can play the ice with that type of hockey IQ will pay extremely high dividends in the future.
At this point in time, it is pretty clear that Reinhart is more than a viable option at center. With his faceoff wins at 40%, over 15 minutes of ice time per game, he has been able to generate momentum for the Sabres in nearly every game he has played thus far. Even more so for his first full year in the NHL.
Now, I would like to talk about his vision on the ice one last time. Redundant, I know. But it would be wrong to bring up his RIDICULOUS assist to Ryan O’Reilly against Chicago.
Coasting backwards. Behind the net. Passed back through the trapezoid to the front of the net, only to be buried short side by Ryan O’Reilly (Pretty consistent theme between those names). I’m willing to bet that most players with the puck in that situation would have continued to cycle the puck around the boards. But Sam kept his head up and waited for the play to develop. O’Reilly found open space in the faceoff circle, and Samson slung it tape-to-tape. That kind of patience with the puck is the quarterbacking the Buffalo has been looking for in both 5 vs. 5 and powerplay situations. With the success and chemistry Reinhart and O’Reilly have produced, it would be difficult to envision placing them on separate lines.
ROR go-ahead goal pic.twitter.com/sLn8k16p6W
— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 19, 2015
It’s going to be an exciting time watching Reinhart develop further into a true top 6 forward. And at 20-years-old, with all the rest of young talent surrounding him, his growth as an NHL professional has quickly become a reality for this franchise on the rise.