The Sabres are about to determine the future of one junior-eligible player. Questions remain about the other one.
Sam Reinhart played the final game of his nine-game tryout Thursday in a 3-2 overtime loss to Boston. His entry-level contract kicks in with a 10th game, so Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray must decide whether to keep the No. 2 overall draft pick or send him back to juniors. The Sabres appeared to be leaning toward sending Reinhart to Kootenay of the Western Hockey League.
“They have made it clear that the overriding consideration will be what is in Sam’s best interests from a developmental point of view,” Reinhart’s agent, Craig Oster, said via email.
Reinhart recorded no goals and one assist during his tryout.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing to get into the guessing game at this point,” the 18-year-old Reinhart said in First Niagara Center.
No matter the decision, the son and brother of NHL players has relished his time with the Sabres.
“You can only be told what it’s like so many times before you can actually experience it yourself,” Reinhart said. “I think that was really good for me. I’ve felt I’ve been getting better every day, and that’s the best thing I can do in this situation.”
Coach Ted Nolan is glad the deadline has arrived.
“Yeah, for all involved,” Nolan said. “I’m quite sure Sam is sitting around every night, too, wondering, ‘Am I going to stay the whole year? Is it game to game?’
“We batted around every idea there was to the situation.”
Nikita Zadorov, meanwhile, remains in limbo and was scratched for the 10th time in 11 games. The 19-year-old defenseman is eligible to return to London of the Ontario Hockey League, but Murray anticipates a fight if that happens.
Zadorov’s agent, Rolland Hedges, would like his client to play at home in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where St. Petersburg possesses his rights. The NHL, however, says Zadorov can play only for the Sabres or in the Canadian Hockey League. The defenseman and his KHL team may not sign off on a transfer to juniors.
“Is that part of the reason he’s here? Yes,” Murray said on his radio show on WGR-AM 550. “The only option if we don’t want him here is to send him to London. If we do that, does it become a long, drawn-out affair or is it a cut-and-dry thing? We’re not sure about that.
“If he decides not to go or the transfer agreement is not signed by the KHL team and him, I’m sure that the CHL will say, ‘He’s our property,’ and then there’s going to have to be some type of agreement come to between the KHL and the CHL. I’m sure that the CHL will involve the” International Ice Hockey Federation “in that.”
In the meantime, Zadorov is free to play for Buffalo whenever Nolan sees fit.
“He’s available to play every night,” Murray told WGR. “That’s up to the coaches. I’m not going to walk down to their room and tell them, ‘You have to play 51 tonight.’ That’s not my job.”
The Sabres have welcomed another goaltender to practice. Matt Hackett, who tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee during last season’s penultimate game, is back on the ice.
“It’s nice to get back out there and finally get some shots and not be in the trainers’ room,” said Hackett, who estimates he is still two months away from being ready to play. “I’m limited to a few movements out there, so that’s what I’m trying to get better at, just trying to get the flexibility back in the knee.”
The 24-year-old Hackett, acquired in the 2013 trade that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota, appeared in eight games for the Sabres last season. Though rehab has been a struggle, he hopes it strengthens more than just his knee.
“If I didn’t get better from this whole process of getting stronger and stuff, I wasted an opportunity here,” Hackett said.
Injured right wing Patrick Kaleta (face) is practicing fully with the Sabres.
“You talk to him, he’d be ready tonight,” Nolan said, “but we’ve just got to make sure.”