Kuzma: Sam Reinhart could be something special (with video)
North Van’s Reinhart is a possible No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft
There’s a softer side to Sam Reinhart.
Dodgeball and Vince Vaughn rank as his favourite movie and actor, respectively, and it makes perfect sense. For a no-nonsense centre, who could be the first overall selection Friday depending on bidding for that coveted draft pick, there has to be comedic relief from the daily dogged determination to play in the NHL next season.
After all, there’s nothing funny about trying to make the major leap from WHL standout with the Kootenay Ice to projected franchise foundation in The Show.
That’s where Reinhart may have a leg up on his peers. Aside from the obvious hockey lineage with his famous father, Paul, and brothers Griffin and Max — drafted by the New York Islanders in 2012 and Calgary Flames in 2010, respectively — there’s something about Sam’s ability and comfort level.
The North Vancouver native can slow the game down and make the right decisions with such effectiveness that many believe his game is NHL-ready. Where does that come from?
“I’m not sure,” he shrugged following a recent 90-minute workout session with his brothers at Level 10 Fitness in North Vancouver.
“When I’m on the ice, I’m not thinking too much. The more you think, the worse it can be for you, and you could panic a little more. The biggest thing is reading and reacting, and it’s just kind of a natural ability to do that. It’s really an asset to have that in your game.”
Natural, maybe, but it’s what set the agile and elusive Wayne Gretzky apart, and why Sidney Crosby is so hard to knock off the puck.
You have to be good, but you also have to be quick on your feet, quick-thinking and hard to corral. And if piling up 36 goals and 105 points last season in the WHL — to be named player of the year and most sportsmanlike performer — and then adding 23 points (6-17) in 13 playoff games wasn’t convincing enough, Reinhart’s transition to Team Canada’s world championship camp in Switzerland last spring was seamless.
The 6-foot-1,186-pound centre also appeared in an exhibition game and that spoke to where he already is and where he hopes to go this fall. If Nathan MacKinnon could step right in and win the Calder Trophy after being the first pick in 2013, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the 18-year-old Reinhart could be an effective roster regular under the right conditions.
If that occurs, who knows? Players will tell you it’s easier to play in the AHL than the WHL because there’s better talent. And it can be even easier to play in the NHL than the AHL because you’re with elite talent and not covering up for someone else.
“I feel ready,” said Reinhart. “Going to Switzerland, the pro guys really taught me what it’s like at that level. To see the change of pace up there was pretty cool and pretty motivating. I gained a lot of confidence and I feel ready and I’m excited for it. I’m going to continue to work hard to make sure I can play next year and to make an impact.
“A lot of it for a young guy coming in is confidence, and you have to be comfortable on the ice and with those guys. And with comfort comes confidence and there’s a correlation between the two — the quicker you adapt to the change of pace, the better you’ll be.
“And a lot of it is if your game fits the pro level. I feel if I’m playing with better players, I elevate my game much quicker. I think I make players around me better and that’s a good thing to have.
“In the NHL, everyone is playing the right positions and it’s almost easier to play. It’s not easy to make that jump by any means, but if you’re ready enough, the game at times may seem easier.”
Adapting is also somewhat easier when you’re the third and youngest son of supportive parents Paul and Theresa Reinhart and have seen how Max and Griffin have handled the uncertainty of NHL employment that can be predicated as much on dollars than roster sense.
Griffin, 20, is a fourth-overall pick who thought he had done enough to crack the Islanders’ blueline last fall, but was returned to the WHL and earned a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Max, 22, has played just eight games with the Flames, but the centre had 21 goals in 66 AHL games with the Abbotsford Heat.
“Everything I’m trying to do or accomplish right now, I’ve been fortunate enough to see my brothers go through it,” said Sam Reinhart.
“They’ve both battled through adversity and have had success at times, so it’s been a huge benefit for me. A lot of people ask if it’s pressure. Not at all, to be honest, and it’s only positive in my view.”
Reinhart played defence in peewee and bantam, then went back and forth between forward and defence. Understanding what’s happening in all three zones on the ice helped his vision for the game.
“It was a big part of my development at a young age because you’re on the ice way more at that age and see the ice more — and you know what a defenceman is thinking.”
When Reinhart isn’t training or playing, he excels at tennis, soccer and golf. His well-rounded approach — understanding that it’s imperative to have a balance that allows other pursuits and even a good laugh — will probably do as much to fuel his career as an enviable skill level.
“Sam is a very laid-back kid and you can see that in the way he plays,” said Max. “Watching him over the past couple of years, I think he’s probably really ready to make that jump into the NHL now. The calmness falls into the category of how he thinks the game. He picks his spots and is usually out-thinking opponents.”
Added Griffin: “Most people think with us that it’s 24/7 with hockey, but you’ve got to balance it out and Sam does a good job. He’s extremely skilled with the puck and protects it well and makes passes that other guys can’t make.”
Asked when he knew he might have a future in the game, the youngest Reinhart didn’t reference a WHL game or playoffs, or even his world championship exposure with Team Canada at the junior and senior levels.
“Seeing Griffin getting drafted really made me think about it more and how close I could be if I put the time and effort in,” he said. “I know I’m not there yet, but I’m doing everything I can over the next few months to make that happen.”
And it could happen with a number of teams, including the Vancouver Canucks, who are trying to move up and get the No. 1 pick from the Florida Panthers.
“I’m not too focused on that.” stressed Reinhart. “There’s not a bad place to play in the NHL. I’m excited to go to a team with a very good opportunity to play and I’m going to make the best of it.”
HIGHEST B.C.-BORN DRAFT PICKS
Pick/Year Team Player Born
1, 2011 Edmonton Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Burnaby
2, 1977 Colorado Barry Beck Vancouver
2, 1978 Washington Ryan Walter New Westminster
3, 1982 Toronto Gary Nylund Surrey
3, 2007 Phoenix Kyle Turris New Westminster
4, 1993 Anaheim Paul Kariya Vancouver
4, 2004 Carolina Andrew Ladd Maple Ridge
4, 2009 Winnipeg Evander Kane Vancouver
4, 2010 Columbus Ryan Johansen Port Moody
4, 2012 Islanders Griffin Reinhart West Vancouver
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