Given his choice of career path, Sam Reinhart would prefer to skate as the right winger for center Jack Eichel. Dan Bylsma sees that as Reinhart’s long-term future, too.
However, with Eichel sidelined and Buffalo in need of offense, Reinhart is back at center. The Sabres hope it’s a happy return.
Reinhart will skate in the middle of left wing Tyler Ennis and right wing Zemgus Girgensons on Tuesday when the Sabres visit Philadelphia. Drafted second overall as a center, Reinhart’s best moments in Buffalo have come as a winger alongside Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly. The 20-year-old is getting another chance to be the centerpiece.
“We’re looking for Sam to anchor a line and be that guy in the middle,” Bylsma said after practice Monday. “I like the way he skated today just playing center. He was skating up and down the ice, skating with speed. I think that’s something he’s going to have to bring to make that line effective.”
Bylsma hasn’t been impressed by Reinhart’s footwork through the Sabres’ opening four games. The movement should pick up with the added backchecking duties given to centers.
“From a skating standpoint, you’re kind of keeping your speed up more,” Reinhart said in KeyBank Center. “It’s not as much stopping and starting. It’s more trying to keep your speed up through the middle of the ice as opposed to being on the wall and trying to get going when the puck gets to you. It’s a little bit different and forces you to keep moving your feet.
“When I’m at my best I’m moving my feet, I’m taking up time and space on the forecheck. At times when I move to center it helps me do that.”
In addition to getting Reinhart moving, Bylsma hopes the switch gets Ennis and Girgensons going. Ennis has no goals, one assist and is a team-worst minus-4. Girgensons has one goal on just six shots.
“I’ve liked their jump the last two days,” Bylsma said. “They have some offensive punch to them. That’s what that line needs to be for us, getting Tyler Ennis going for us, getting Zemgus going for us.”
The line seems to have compatible components. Ennis is shifty with puck-carrying ability. Reinhart can pass into tight areas. Girgensons is a north-south player who can get to the net. While they’ve formed duos before, they’ve never all been together.
“If I can get it in there with my speed and then have Sam making plays with those great passes he can make, it should be a fun line,” Ennis said. “I’ve got to push the pace, use my speed all over the ice and then just really think of getting the puck to the net.”
Reinhart’s position switch means another swap for Girgensons. He started at center this year after bouncing between the middle and wing last season.
“You adjust,” Girgensons said. “Rhino is jumping into center, so maybe that will be a little spark there and we get a good game out of it.”
The objective is to establish stable places for Girgensons and Reinhart. While versatility is good, maximizing their skills in one spot is better.
“At this point I see it as if there’s an injury I’ll move back to center,” Reinhart said. “When Jack’s back, I’m hoping we’ll get put back together, but at this point I like where our group’s at with me down the middle.”
Added Bylsma: “Long term, I like seeing him play with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly. That means he’s playing wing. He’s a centerman by nature, but I kind of like what I see and have seen from him and Jack together on a line.”
Eichel’s high-ankle sprain is expected to keep him out until Thanksgiving or later, so for now it’s back to the middle for Reinhart. No matter where the players line up, they expect to improve their 1-2-1 record.
“It’s not good enough,” Ennis said. “We want to win every game, and I think we could have won every game.”