DETROIT – Ask players and coaches in the Buffalo Sabres room about Sam Reinhart and the first descriptive word out of their mouths inevitably is “intelligent.”
The forward has always shown the intangible hockey smarts with the ability to read the game, to know where to be and where to send the puck.
But now the other parts of his game are developing – his shot, his physical presence on the puck, his skating and his strength.
The work has started to show in the stats for the rookie. In a six-game span he had five points with four goals coming on 19 shots. His ice time has steadily increased. And so too has his confidence.
“It definitely builds the confidence knowing I can go out there in most situations and the production is starting to come,” Reinhart said. “I think the chances have always been there throughout the year. I think I’ve been bearing down a little bit more on some of the chances and opportunities I’ve been getting and things are going in for me.”
New linemate Ryan O’Reilly certainly enjoys playing with the 20-year-old.
“I think it’s just his confidence. From the start of the year he’s lot more confident and you can see it,” O’Reilly said. “You can tell he’s got such a good hockey sense and the reads he makes, he’s a very intelligent player and playing with him, he’s easy to play with. He finds open areas he knows where to go and to see him get confidence like that I think it helps him just play his game and do the things he’s good at and he’s been outstanding for us.”
While confidence can cure many ills, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has seen drastic improvements in Reinhart’s game.
“The strength of Sam Reinhart is his intelligence – positional play, smarts on the ice in every situation offensively and defensively,” Bylsma said. “But his skating has improved. His puck battles have improved. His shot has improved and it’s been pretty drastic in the last two months for Sam.
“He’s made huge strides as a player with the pace of his game, the speed of his game, how he is on pucks. Offensively you’ve seen the benefit of that. His skating, those areas are drastically different than they were at the beginning of the year and he’s worked diligently and hard on those aspects of his game and they’re showing in a lot of areas.”
For Reinhart, the biggest improvement has been his shot. He’s been using it more as well, getting more pucks to the net more often.
“I think it’s more a weapon in my game now than it ever has been so I’m trying to use that to my advantage,” Reinhart said about his shot. “I think everything about it has improved throughout the course of the year whether it’s release or just the power of it. More comfortable with it for sure.”
After the Sabres pre-game skate at Joe Louis Arena Monday morning, Bylsma was asked about his task of changing the team’s culture after two solid seasons of losing.
“It’s really the biggest challenge for our team is changing that mindset in how we play and the culture in which we play in,” Bylsma said. “That’s something we’re still developing. You get tested a lot in that time frame. Working to build, trying to build that culture and do it in those test matches. . . . I’d like to say we’re a finished product but we’re not. I know we expect to win hockey games and that’s where we need to be.”
The Sabres announced they will host a winter clothing drive, collecting new or gently used winter clothing including hats, gloves, coats, boots, scarves and sweaters. All donated items will be given to the Buffalo City Mission. Fans can bring items to First Niagara Center for Tuesday’s game against New Jersey along with Thursday’s game against Anaheim and Saturday’s game against Chicago. Cash donations will also be accepted.
Fans who donate items will receive a voucher for $20 off 300 Level II tickets for select games.