It’s easy to say, “Work hard and good things will happen.” Anyone who’s busted his hump yet fallen short of his goal knows it doesn’t always come true.
It has for Sam Reinhart. The Buffalo forward put in extra work during the summer of 2015 with the goal of making the Sabres, and he skated on opening night. Then, nearly every day after practice, he spent additional time honing his skills and accepting advice. He grew into a 23-goal scorer.
After seeing hard work equal success, Reinhart doubled down and did even more this summer. He and the Sabres, who opened training camp Friday, hope the trend of positive results continues.
“I worked the hardest this summer that I ever have, and that’s saying a lot with the summer I had before,” Reinhart said. “The gains I had two summers ago were pretty substantial, and I knew the improvements that could be had over a summer. I obviously went back to work and had another good summer and feel great coming in. I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Reinhart is one of the key reasons Buffalo may end its five-year playoff drought. He finished third in NHL rookie scoring despite just two goals in the opening 15 games. He grew into a potent threat, including four goals and 12 points in March, and taking another step will help the Sabres make up ground in the Atlantic Division.
“I still think there’s a lot of growth for him and his game,” coach Dan Bylsma said in HarborCenter. “I’d love to think it means the same kind of improvement we saw in him last year, even from when he came to camp through the first three months of the season and how much he improved in his game.
“Another good summer for him would lend to him being an even better player for us this season.”
Reinhart learned during his nine-game tryout in 2014 that he needed to be stronger to jostle with NHLers and faster to avoid them. Listed at 186 pounds entering the 2014 Draft, the 20-year-old is up to 195 and has a more muscular frame.
“Two summers ago was the first summer that I power-skated,” he said. “This summer, I power-skated even more and went into more depth with that. Off ice, I did pretty much the same program but obviously adapted it and went more intense with it. Just as you go, you learn how much bigger and faster the game is getting, and you have to adjust on the fly.”
While his speed has increased, Reinhart’s ability to slow the game down is what sets him apart. He takes an extra second to look at the ice, and he sees what’s happening better than most. It was evident during Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage, and it’s been on display during the players’ informal workouts this month.
“He just looks so much more confident with the puck,” Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe said. “The things he can do with the puck are just crazy. He can see a play develop way before it even comes to fruition. He’s 10 steps ahead of the game.
“Just watching him make those plays and the passes he can make, it’s going to be fun to watch him this year.”
The Sabres opened camp without their top centers, Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, so Reinhart skated in the middle. Eichel is coming back from the World Cup as soon as Saturday, and Reinhart is expected to slide back to right wing alongside his fellow No. 2 overall pick and new roommate.
Though Reinhart was drafted as a center, he has embraced the opportunity to play the wing. He gets more ice time as a No. 1 or 2 right winger than he would as the No. 3 center.
“You look at our depth at center, and I certainly feel comfortable,” he said. “Obviously, I get a chance to play with some pretty good players and get in some more opportunities offensively.
“It works well for both the centerman and me when I play wing. The workload down low could be minimized a little bit. If someone gets caught, I can go down there and switch out. As you play with guys, you sort of learn their tendencies a little bit and work off each other.”
Work is clearly one area where Reinhart has excelled. As he looks around the dressing room, he’s eager to adding winning to his list.
“We’re coming in here with a good mentality,” Reinhart said. “Obviously, you look around and it’s not going to be easy. We know what our goals are, and obviously we want to make the playoffs. We’re going to continue to grow as a team.”