By John Vogl
PHILADELPHIA – Sam Reinhart, the newest member of the Buffalo Sabres, had an opportunity last month that was afforded to just one draft-eligible player. The center practiced with Canada’s world championship team in Switzerland and played in an exhibition.
Reinhart chatted often with two players on Team Canada, Cody Hodgson and Tyler Myers. They talked about Buffalo and what Reinhart would look like in a Sabres uniform.
They know now. Reinhart slipped on the Sabres’ sweater Friday night after the team selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
“I’ve certainly visualized myself in this uniform, and I’m just thrilled and ecstatic to really make an impact there and go to Buffalo for the first time,” Reinhart said in Wells Fargo Center. “I’m very excited and I’m very motivated to step in the league next year with a young team that’s developed very well and to make an impact.”
Buffalo hasn’t promised the 18-year-old center a roster spot, but he clearly believes he’ll earn one. For a team lacking in talent, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on opening night.
“It’s not going to be given to me right away, and I’m going to earn everything I get,” Reinhart said. “The biggest thing for me is the opportunity you get, and I’m excited to take advantage of anything I can.”
Buffalo made the 6-foot, 185-pounder the first forward selected in the draft. Florida took defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 pick, leaving a trio of talented centers for the Sabres. They chose Reinhart over Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl.
“I couldn’t be happier about the outcome,” Reinhart said.
The center, who is the fourth member of his family to be drafted, has been a junior star with Kootenay of the Western Hockey League for three seasons. He opened his career with 28 goals and 62 points in 67 games in 2011-12, then increased his output to 35 goals and 85 points in 72 games the next season.
Reinhart exploded this year, putting up 36 goals, 69 assists and 105 points in 60 games. He added six goals, 17 assists and 23 points in 13 playoff games to earn NHL Central Scouting’s No. 3 ranking.
“I think I use my hockey sense to my advantage,” Reinhart said. “I seem to be in the right place at the right time. I think I make players around me better and I kind of can fit with any player. I’m pretty versatile, so I’m excited for whatever they have in store for me there.”
Reinhart gets bragging rights in a family that lives in the rinks. His father, Paul, played 11 seasons in the NHL and was drafted 12th overall by the Atlanta Flames in 1979. Sam’s brother Max went 64rd to Calgary in 2010, while brother Griffin was the fourth overall pick by the New York Islanders in 2012.
“They’ve made it so much easier on me,” Sam Reinhart said. “I’ve been around my brothers, working out with them the last couple of years. They’re in the same position as me, trying to make that jump. It’s not easy, but I’ve been familiar with the process and how much work it really takes.
“I know the draft is one day. I’m going to enjoy this whole process like I have been, but you really have to look at the long run and what’s ahead. This is just one day, and I’m excited to get back in the gym and work out and get on the ice and start preparing for training camp.”
During a draft enlivened by the notoriously riotous fans of Philadelphia, the Sabres’ Tim Murray dived right into his inaugural pick as general manager. He skipped the customary thank yous to the host team and the fans watching back home and simply announced Reinhart as his selection.
“I liked it,” Reinhart said. “Didn’t stall at all. It shows some confidence that he has in me, and that only makes me feel better.”
Reinhart has never visited Buffalo, but he’s expected to come to town next week for a look. He’ll also attend next month’s development camp. He got a glimpse of the city during the pre-selection video shown on the scoreboard.
“Before they had the pick I saw some of the city, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Reinhart, who has captained Kootenay and several Hockey Canada clubs.
Though Murray had made plenty of noise about adding another first-round selection, Reinhart was the only player taken by Buffalo. The Sabres have six more picks today, including the enviable top spot in the second round. They have two other second-rounders, plus one each in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
Trade activity was relatively light on the opening day – the biggest deals featured Vancouver sending Ryan Kesler to Anaheim and Pittsburgh shipping James Neal to Nashville – but that could pick up.
“My anticipation is there’s going to be an awful lot of movement with trades and trading picks,” said Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting. “After the draft ends Friday night, the phones are going to be hot and heavy because everyone’s going to say, ‘Who’s got picks at the top of the second round? We need one of those picks.’”
The Sabres have those picks.