Share this article

print logo

Mike Harrington: As slump continues at Game 200, Reinhart pushes forward

It's been 3 1/2 years since Sam Reinhart was drafted with plenty of fanfare and the thrifty six-word announcement of then-Sabres General Manager Tim Murray.

Friday night's game against Carolina was the 200th of Reinhart's career. The former No. 2 overall pick was supposed to be a franchise building block. That hasn't panned out.

In those 200 games, Reinhart has 101 points (45 goals, 56 assists). Only four players taken in the 2014 draft have more — No. 1 Aaron Ekblad of Florida has 108, No. 3 Leon Draisatil of Edmonton has 159, No. 9 Nikolaj Ehlers of Winnipeg has 127 and No. 25 David Pastrnak has 152. So given those figures and the fact he's still just 22, you can't put a bust label on Reinhart just yet.

But things are hardly on the upswing for him either. He has just five goals and six assists in 33 games this season and is in the worst slump of his career — with one measly assist in the last 11 games.

In speaking to Kyle Okposo last week about his goal drought, the veteran said he's no longer looking at his numbers because they're probably never going to get where he wants this season. Reinhart is in the same boat.

"That's where I'm at right now, absolutely," said Reinhart before Friday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Hurricanes. "There's been a lot of games where I've felt good in a number of them. I have to keep believing it will turn for me."

Reinhart had 23 goals and 19 assists two years ago in his first full NHL season. Last year's totals were 17 goals and 30 assists. His current pace this season? Just 12 goals, 15 assists for 27 points.

"Sometimes when you go through those droughts, you want it so bad that you're not executing," said coach Phil Housley. "It's not coming freely for you. You overthink situations, overplay situations. He's got to continue to work. That's where it starts with Sam. Work and compete."

Reinhart had two golden chances in tight to snap his drought Friday but was stopped by Carolina goaltender Cam Ward both times. One was off a Jack Eichel feed in the first period, the other after he was sent in alone by Benoit Pouliot shortly after the Canes' two quick goals in the third wiped out a 2-1 Buffalo lead.

Just like Thursday in Philadelphia. Shortly after Ryan O'Reilly scored in the first two minutes of play to put the Sabres in front, Reinhart had another chance after a second misplay by Philadelphia goalie Brian Elliott. Couldn't beat the Flyers defender to the post.

No dice on any of those three chances. Scorers need to put those away.

Missed opportunities are killing the Sabres at crunch time. There's a reason they're just 1-6 in overtime this year and have 12 one-goal losses on the season. And which version of NHL math do you subscribe to? The one that says the Sabres have lost four of five (1-1-3) or the one that says they have points in five out of six (2-1-3)?

Reinhart is probably never going to be an elite scorer in the NHL. His skating and strength remain suspect and his ceiling looks far more like a strong third-liner on a good team. The problems, of course, are that the Sabres are far from a good team and he was drafted with the idea of being a top-6 building block.

It didn't look like it would be this way. Reinhart was nothing short of brilliant for Team Canada during the 2015 World Juniors — serving as a major cog on Canada's only gold medal team over the last eight tournaments.

No less an authority than Connor McDavid told me the night of Canada's thrilling victory over Russia in the gold medal game that Reinhart should be the MVP of the tournament. He had a point.

Reinhart and McDavid tied for scoring honors in the tourney with 11 points in the seven games and Reinhart led the way in goals (5) and plus-minus (+13). It was Reinhart who took and won the climactic faceoff in the defensive zone with three seconds on the clock and Canada nursing its one-goal lead. In fact, he took all three D-zone draws in the final 40 seconds with the Russians playing with an extra attacker and won two of them.

The Wraparound: Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Reinhart and McDavid were both named all-stars in the tournament. I can still hear Murray on the phone a few days later, just about bursting from his chair with unabashed glee talking about Reinhart's play in the tourney at both ends of the ice.

Reinhart might be the Sabres' best net-front presence on the power play. It says here that one reason the unit has been struggling all year is that Housley and associate coach Davis Payne haven't put him in that spot enough.

"Down low, he's terrific. He gets his body over the puck, can make plays down low," Housley said. "It's that end zone to end zone back-and-forth hockey where he has to continue to work and be hard on the forecheck so he gets some separation. Once he's down there, he controls the puck and makes plays. Now it's just getting to the net front and getting dirty."

Eichel's brilliant performance Friday is the kind of thing you expect from a No. 2 overall pick. Reinhart's draft status is probably a product of a down class by comparison, but that No. 2 slot will follow him through his career like an albatross. It's up to him to get better in the next 200 games than he's been in the first 200. At this point, however, it's anybody's guess if he gets the chance to do that in Buffalo.

"No question about it, it's gone fast. I didn't know that stat until you told me," Reinhart said of No. 200. "You just have to take advantage with whatever chance you get. I'm trying to produce but it's not happening right now. All I can do is stick with it, keep competing, keep battling and hope it starts to turn in the right direction."

Story topics: / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment