What happens when you’re caught between man among boys and boy among men?
It’s a question Jonathan Drouin had to answer a year ago, and it’s the same one Buffalo mega-prospect Sam Reinhart faces now. The Sabres announced Friday they were returning Reinhart to the Western League’s Kootenay Ice. At 18, he’s far from eligible for the American League, and he’d played his ninth NHL game, meaning one more would burn a year of his entry-level contract.
And the truth is Reinhart belongs in junior. Taken second overall in last June’s draft, he’s an oustanding prospect, a heady two-way center who can make everyone around him better. His superb hockey sense made plenty of scouts call him the draft class’ most NHL-ready player, but watching him this season suggested otherwise. His 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame isn’t quite ready to do battle against grown men. Tuesday when the Sabres visited Toronto, it was one of those games that had you checking the box score afterward to make sure he played. He was a non-entity, registering one shot and little else in 12:41 of ice time. That was largely the case through Reinhart’s first nine NHL games, in which he averaged 10:21 and managed one assist and three shots. In that tiny sample, his 31.1 Fenwick Close rating was 565th out of 568 qualifying NHLers.
Those numbers aren’t meant to harp on Reinhart. He has an outstanding career ahead of him. They do, however, suggest the Sabres were smart to send him down. And, to his credit, he gets it. I spoke with him after Tuesday’s game in Toronto. The elephant in the hallway was that he had one more game until his probable return to the WHL. In his short stay, he learned plenty. He lists veterans Brian Gionta, Cody McCormick, Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges as hugely helpful with their day-to-day advice. And game situations opened his eyes as well.
“Obviously you knew it was going to be a challenge,” Reinhart said. “It’s the best thing in the world, and to try and make the jump is difficult. The biggest thing I’ve tried to focus on and learned is the pace and intensity. It’s not as much the speed skating up and down the ice – it’s the overall speed and intensity with the puck. To want the puck, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
Jake Smith thought he was good. The North Bay Battalion goaltender had just deflected Aaron Laishram’s wrister away from the net, so he skated off the celebrate the shootout victory with his teammates. But he celebrated too early.
When is an 18-year-old not an 18-year-old? When he finds himself analyzed by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement.
New York Rangers rookie Anthony Duclair has been a revelation this season, putting in great work at the Traverse City prospects tournament and then parlaying that into a superb showing at training camp. The youngster has his first NHL goal under his belt and now the question is whether the Blueshirts will keep him on Broadway all season long.
Except the normal nine-game rule doesn’t apply here.
Is it too early for world junior speculation? Never! Unfortunately, the speculation comes at the expense of Team USA hopeful Steven Santini. The New Jersey prospect has been sidelined with a wrist injury that will keep him out of the tournament, but there may be a name or two below who can pick up the slack. Check out this week’s round-up of who to know in the world of prospects.
After seeing what the Edmonton Oilers accomplished in their past four games, it’s tough to argue that the Oilers aren’t actually built better to compete in the Eastern Conference than the West. Their 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens Monday night was their fourth straight, all against eastern teams, squads against which their skill and speed comes to the fore without the tight checking and physical play that seems to make them shrink.
This four-game stretch could not have come at a better time for the Oilers, who desperately needed to string some wins together to calm a very, very nervous fan base. And the wins could not have come at a better time for Leon Draisaitl, who will almost certainly appear in his 10th game this season when the Oilers host the Nashville Predators Wednesday night. Read more
If you’re a football fan, you know the best coach tirades don’t always come from the professional ranks. Ask Mike Gundy. And while the likes of John Tortorella get the headlines in the NHL, major junior can provide us with gems, too.
Tuesday night was a tough one for the Sudbury Wolves, who lost 7-2 to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyounds. The season has been nothing short of hellish for the Wolves, who are 1-10-0 and have lost 10 straight since winning their opener. They’ve been outscored 49-19.
Coach Paul Fixter decided he was simply fed up while answering post-game questions from reporters. The first interviewer, CTV’s Lincoln Louttit, grinds his way through few awkward silences, trying to get Fixter’s thoughts on the obvious: that he’s frustrated with his team’s play. But the real fireworks start around the 0:55 mark when off-camera interviewer Peter Ruicci of the Sault Star questions the team’s work ethic:
Fans in Buffalo can’t wait for Connor McDavid to come to the Sabres – in fact, some of them already have jerseys with his name and No. 97 on the back. A little matter of the draft lottery stands in their way, but for one magical night, McDavid was wearing gold and blue and tearing around First Niagara Center.
He has been one of the most talented players in his age group for years, yet Josh Ho-Sang has never been given the chance to shine on a big stage…until now.