After failing to stick in the NHL last year, Sam Reinhart knew he had a lot of work to do. He’s done it.
The Sabres center spent the summer improving his skating and physical condition. He’ll get to show off his work this weekend as Buffalo hosts Boston and New Jersey in a three-team prospects tournament.
“I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt in my life,” Reinhart said Tuesday after an informal skate in HarborCenter. “The biggest thing that I’ve improved on is my skating. I feel a lot more confident with it out there.”
A lack of explosiveness helped send the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 Draft back to junior hockey last season. He spent most of the summer doing power-skating work, the first time in his life he’s focused extensively on his footwork.
“There hasn’t been a summer where I’ve worked this hard,” Reinhart said. “The biggest thing I took out of it is staying low wherever you are on the ice. I think I had tendencies to pick my body up a little bit too much, so I think I’ve corrected that a little more.
“It’s a lot quicker game, it’s a lot stronger game, so everything about being in that lower position enables me to use all my strength and quickness out there.”
Reinhart feels even better than he did in July, when he was the star of Sabres development camp. The team has the 19-year-old penciled into its starting lineup, so month-to-month improvement is vital.
Reinhart says he’s more comfortable off the ice, too. He was a focal point of last year’s training camp, but he’ll yield the spotlight to Jack Eichel this year.
“I don’t think the pressure ever goes away,” Reinhart said. “If in the first place that bothers you, I think there’s a problem. I know for a fact it doesn’t bother him. He’s comfortable in it and I’m sure he’ll excel with that added pressure. With that being said, I’m comfortable with it, too.”
Reinhart, Eichel and the other prospects will gather at 9 a.m. Friday in First Niagara Center for an open practice. They’ll play New Jersey at 7 p.m. Saturday and Boston at 7 p.m. Monday. Tickets for the games are $10 and are available at the arena box office or Sabres.com.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Reinhart, who relished playing in front of 17,000 fans during development camp. “You look back to the middle of July, and anytime you get to play in that rink it’s fun. I know all the guys that are here so far are looking forward to it.”
Josh Gorges’ season ended in February because of a knee injury, so the defenseman has had a lot of time to analyze his subpar year. He’s decided to change the way he’ll handle himself off the ice.
“I think I took too much onus on the responsibility of being a leader when I was brought here, that it was my job to do everything,” said Gorges, who served as an alternate captain after being acquired from Montreal. “I think first and foremost, my job is to go out there and do my job. I’ve got to go out there and play hockey and play at a high level and be a leader in how I play the game.
“I’m always going to be a vocal guy because that’s just in my nature. I think if things need to be said or done, I don’t have a problem doing it, but I don’t think we’re going to need as much of that this year.”
Gorges was one of the few voices of experience in the dressing room last season. He says the additions of David Legwand, Ryan O’Reilly, Zack Bogosian and others will stop him from forcing any comments.
“For myself, it’s just being who I am and nothing more than that,” Gorges said.
The 31-year-old is healthy after microfracture surgery and has no restrictions on his knee, other than those he’s placed on himself. He’s changed his fitness routine to eliminate jumping and activities that grind on his knee.
“With the surgery I had, there’s just no need for it anymore,” Gorges said. “Every time you do a little bit more like that, it’s just harder and harder on your body. Not that I’m super old, but I’m starting to get up there. The most important thing is what you can do on the ice, and as long as I can do everything on the ice, then I’m good.”
Derek Plante and Jeremy Roenick will be the coaches for this month’s All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, USA Hockey announced Tuesday.
Plante is part of Sabres lore after scoring in overtime in Game Seven to eliminate Ottawa during the 1997 playoffs. He spent eight seasons in the NHL, including his first six in Buffalo. The 44-year-old is a development coach for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Roenick spent two decades in the NHL and is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He recorded 513 goals and 1,216 points in 1,363 games with Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Jose. He serves as a studio analyst for NBC Sports.
The Prospects Game, which will feature 42 Americans eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, will be held Sept. 24 in First Niagara Center.