Dan Bylsma thinks Sam Reinhart has the goods to be a successful NHL center. He’s just not certain anymore that the middle will be the ideal place for Reinhart.
The Sabres’ coach has used Reinhart at center and right wing during his rookie year. The 20-year-old has had middling success in the middle, but he’s been a revelation on the right side with 18 goals in 62 games after Thursday’s 6-3 victory over Calgary.
With Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel in line to hold down the top two center spots for a long time, Bylsma is rethinking Reinhart’s long-term position.
“It does maybe change a little bit with the success that he’s had at wing and the comfort that he has in kind of seamlessly starting there and playing there this year,” Bylsma said in First Niagara Center. “I still think his intelligence of how he plays the game lends itself to being a puck distributor in the middle of the ice, but when you look at a top-six group of forwards or you’re putting lines together, with the success he’s had at wing you kind of feel like being on the wing in a top-six is something maybe he’s been better at for us.”
Reinhart was on the wing against the Flames, skating alongside Eichel and left wing Evander Kane for the second straight game.
“I probably think in the last 18 games he’ll play a few more games at center,” Bylsma said. “With Ryan out for probably a still more extended time period, we’re going to see Sam there a little bit. I’d like to see him there a little bit in the next couple weeks, but I think he played his best at wing for us.”
Reinhart, who has played center most of his life, said again Thursday he’s comfortable at both positions and doesn’t mind switching between them.
“I’ve been fine with it,” he said. “I feel the last couple games at center has caused my skating to even be that much better. Going back to the wing last game, I felt I had more energy in it.”
Eichel knows it will be weird facing a team with “USA” written across its chest. That said, he likes the uniform he’ll be wearing.
Eichel, who has a long history of representing USA Hockey, will be an opponent with Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey in September. He was one of the first 16 players picked for the under-23 team, which will face the older members of the United States and Canada in the eight-team tournament.
“It expands the people who can participate in this event,” Eichel said. “It’d be a little weird playing against the United States in general, just going up against their jersey, but I like the format of the tournament. I imagine none of those guys on the U.S. I’d ever play with, so I don’t really have any relationships with them. I think more than anything it would just be weird playing against your own country.”
Instead of red, white and blue, Eichel will wear a black, gray and red sweater that features an interlocking “NA” inside an inverted triangle.
“Pretty cool,” Eichel said. “I like the color black. I think black uniforms look good, so I thought it was pretty cool.”
Cody Franson’s road back from injury has taken a bad turn. The defenseman, injured Feb. 19 when he was boarded in Columbus, skated with the Sabres once last week but has not been back on the ice since.
“It kind of has gone the wrong way for him,” Bylsma said. “When he skated in Anaheim, he felt real close to being ready to come back to play or return to health. Right now it’s just not the case for him. He’s dealing with a strained neck and some other issues.
“Obviously, right now he’s not on the ice and not feeling ready to go on the ice.”