Sam Reinhart wanted to be among the first Buffalo Sabres to greet Dylan Cozens when the seventh-overall draft pick stepped off the stage in Vancouver's Rogers Arena in June.
Reinhart, a 23-year-old winger, asked Sabres brass if he could have a seat at the draft table in his hometown and congratulated Cozens on becoming a top NHL draft pick after growing up in the Yukon Territory. Reinhart also gave Cozens one piece of advice: The journey is only beginning.
That sort of wisdom resonates when delivered by someone with Reinhart's experience. Though the Sabres have mostly struggled since Reinhart's draft day in 2014, he has developed into one of the franchise's top offensive threats by scoring 22 or more goals in three of the past four seasons.
When asked about Reinhart this offseason, General Manager Jason Botterill cited the draft-day visit as the latest example of how the team's former second overall pick has continued to mature off the ice.
"I know how overwhelming that experience is and you’re meeting so many people," Reinhart, who spends each offseason in Vancouver, told reporters Wednesday in Harborcenter. "I think if you can meet someone who is kind of established on the team it just provides that much more comfort, to have someone there who has been through that experience as well. It wasn’t too far out of the way for me. I thought it would help out being there, and obviously, wanted to show my commitment to the Sabres’ organization from being around as much as possible."
Reinhart was also among the first Sabres to return to Buffalo for informal skates leading up to Ralph Krueger's first training camp as coach. Reinhart was back on the Harborcenter ice Wednesday with a group that included Tage Thompson, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Carter Hutton, among others.
Reinhart is here to stay this time. He missed the start of training camp last fall because he was an unsigned restricted free agent. Though Reinhart participated in informal skates with teammates, he returned home until a contract was done.
The contract negotiations officially ended Sept. 19, when Reinhart signed a two-year, $7.3 million deal. The later arrival seemed to have little impact on Reinhart's play. Though he went scoreless in his first nine games of the season, Reinhart finished with 22 goals among a career-high 65 points while playing all 82 games for a second consecutive year.
"It’s a little bit less stress coming into it," Reinhart said when asked about being under contract. "I’m happy with where I’m at now."
The Sabres' offseason seems to have added to Reinhart's excitement. In addition to hiring Krueger, the team signed winger Marcus Johansson and traded for winger Jimmy Vesey. Both were acquired to take pressure off Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.
The possible boost in supplementary scoring could also place additional responsibility on Reinhart. Rather than uniting with Eichel and Skinner on the top line, Reinhart could be tasked with leading the team's second group of forwards.
Botterill also seems encouraged by Reinhart's progress on the ice, which was on display at the IIHF World Championships in May. Reinhart scored three goals among five points in 10 tournament games for Canada, and his best performance came in the gold-medal loss to Finland.
Following the tournament, Reinhart returned to Vancouver for the offseason, where he focused on the offseason goals outlined by Sabres management.
"There are certain goals I set for the summer and coming into here with both the staff here going into the summer and all my guys back home," Reinhart said. "I think we accomplished that. It gives me a lot of confidence moving forward into camp. I’m looking forward to getting things started."
That trip to the world championships also included Reinhart's first face-to-face meeting with Krueger. Following his hiring as coach, Krueger traveled with Botterill to Slovakia to speak with Reinhart and Eichel. The details of that conversation have not been divulged publicly, however, Reinhart echoed what other Sabres have said about the man who will be coaching them when training camp opens Sept. 12.
"A lot of good first impressions around here for sure," Reinhart said. "There’s no dancing around that. First and foremost, he’s a good person. He’s easy to talk to. He goes out of his way to make it known what he wants out of you. We’re only going to learn that more as we get going here into camp. We’re looking forward to that communication and leadership that’s going to come from him."