Welcome one and all to the Sam Reinhart prospect preview. /thunderous applause/. This is a continuation of Panther Parkway’s 2014 Draft Profile Series. Considering this piece will be profiling the Kootenay Ice phenom Sam Reinhart I took the liberty of seeking out the sage wisdom of Cody Nickolet. Cody, formerly @WHLfromabove and now @avs_tweets on twitter, is an expert on Canadian Major Junior hockey with a specific focus on the Western Hockey League.
Cody was great enough to partake in an interview centering around top prospect Sam Reinhart, so here we go:
Mike Obrand: For our readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your familiarity with the Western Hockey League (WHL)?
Cody Nickolet: I’ve worked in the league for the past 4 years, doing a little bit of everything including radio color commentary, managing the communications and community relations departments for the Saskatoon Blades. Along with that I’ve worked as a scout of WHL talent for a pair of different draft publications, while also maintaining a blog and personal set of NHL Draft rankings featuring WHL players. This year I also did a bit of bantam scouting for the Blades, which is nice as I get a more hands-on feel for all the players who will be entering the league over the next couple of years.
So now that you all know who we’re dealing with here, let’s get to the topic at hand.
Standing tall at 6’1 and weighing in at 183 lbs, Sam Reinhart has been hailed as one of the top prospects heading into the 2014 NHL draft. Through 4 seasons playing for Kootenay in the WHL he has amassed 101 goals and 153 assists for 254 points in 203 games, including an astounding 105 points in 60 games this past season. Through 29 playoff games he has tallied 26 points including his 23 points in 13 games in 2014.
Reinhart ranks 2nd overall among Bob McKenzie’s April 15th pre-draft rankings, 3rd overall among North American skaters in the NHLs CSS final rankings and 1st overall on the ISSs rankings as of June 3rd.
While opinion on his draft stock differs it is needless to say that Reinhart is a top 3 talent in this upcoming draft.
You know that the Panthers have the first overall selection. Will they use it on Reinhart? Should they? Well…
MO: First off, to be blunt: do you think that Sam Reinhart should go 1st overall in the 2014 entry draft?
CN: Unfortunately, I don’t think he should. And that’s not because I don’t like him as a player, I do. I think he’s just in a bit of a tough spot this year, mostly because of the class of 2014. It’s not a super strong crop at the top and unfortunately that leaves him in a somewhat bad light. As for the rest of his competition at the top in 2014, the guy for me is Aaron Ekblad. Not only is he a do-it-all defender with size, but I’m usually a guy that wants to ensure my team has a solid core of defenceman going forward. Is Aaron Ekblad a legit 1st overall type of guy in another draft year? I would probably say no to that too, so it’s not only a guy like Reinhart who might take some undue criticism in a few years when looking back at this class.
Cody blames the overall talent of this class for the lack of a clean cut number one pick, which I agree with. Teams will look at need over flat out ability. The Panthers have a solid crop of young forwards with skill so the time may come to go for the top flight defenseman, as Cody suggests.
Nevertheless, Sam Reinhart is a player that would help any team including the Panthers. Let’s take a closer look.
MO: Can you speak about the play style of the Kootenay Ice and how Reinhart fits in with that style?
CN: This is an interesting question, just because Reinhart has had two different coaches during his time with the Ice. When he first entered the league he played under Kris Knoblauch. He was a young coach who played an extremely disciplined system. They could lock it down as good as any team in the CHL, and they won a WHL title with him at the helm in 2011. Reinhart was a 15 year old on the team at that time and wow was he ever impressive then. He was so smart and fit in well as a 3rd line center with a cage on, due to his age. It’s pretty unbelievable thinking back to those early games of his WHL career. Since then they’ve hired Ryan McGill, who really lets the offensive guys be creative and likes to play with much more tempo than the previous staff did. They’ve had an extremely small top 6 in the last couple of seasons and like to play with speed. That speed has forced other teams to back off when trying to defend, and Reinhart has used his vision, hockey sense and passing ability to shred teams apart. He’s a great fit for how they play and in the end it’s likely an offensive style that was molded to make a player like him succeed by using his best talents.
This seems like a very good fit from a Panthers perspective. Dale Tallon has preached that he wants an offensive coach who knows how to utilize the talents at his disposal. There is no doubt in my mind that Sam Reinhart would flourish in such a system as he has with Kootenay.
MO: What would you say are Reinhart’s most attractive assets as an NHL prospect?
CN: First things first, his hockey sense. In my several years following the WHL and hockey prospects closely, I don’t think I’ve seen a player as smart as Sam Reinhart. He processes the game at such a high level, really approaches his offensive attack like a game of chess. He knows where to go to and where to put pucks in order to generate offensive chances. To go along with that, his passing ability and vision are both phenomenal. You mix in a shot that’s steadily improved over the last few years and you have a guy that can beat you in a variety of ways, and often does.
I don’t think there’s much more that you want from a prospect. A lot of the time you see that a player has the skills but lacks the sense. In Reinhart’s case you can see that first and foremost his hockey sense is his best asset. The ability for a player to see two steps ahead and act instead of react is something that makes a star NHL player.
MO: What would you say are Reinhart’sleast attractive assets as an NHL prospect?
CN: His skating has always been an area that I looked to as an area that needs to improve. He’s a fine skater at the junior level, but he’s not an overly dynamic player. There aren’t too many games where I’ve seen him blow by defenders or catch guys flat-footed. I think his stride is ok, I just think it will take some time for him to get a stronger lower body and to work on his explosiveness and footwork. If he can ever get that part of his game to an “above-NHL-average” level, he could be an extremely dangerous weapon to have.
Strength comes with time and Reinhart has just that. As he continues to grow and train with NHL players with NHL regimens you’ll see that leg strength come into play. Chances are he won’t reach the elite level in terms of his skating but I don’t think that will hamper his career as an NHLer.
MO: How high is Reinhart’s ceiling? What role do you project him to fill when he reaches his prime?
CN: I think he has the ability to be a middle of the pack 1st line center. That might sound harsh, but I think he could end up being a guy that’s not quite a top 10 center in the NHL, but is more of a guy who is ranked 10-15 in that area of the league. I don’t see him as a true franchise cornerstone guy, even though I’m sure some scouts do. Ideally for me he would be a guy that is one day a fantastic second line center on a championship-caliber team. I think he’ll be a captain of an NHL team one day and a guy that can play first line powerplay minutes and also someone who can kill penalties if you need him to.
Obviously if you’re picking somebody first overall you want them to be a franchise player. The perceived weakness of the draft class may be hurting Reinhart here but I think it would be perfectly acceptable for a team to select this type of potential 1st overall should the team need these services and talents.
MO: Is Reinhart NHL ready?
CN: This is a tough one. I think it really depends on the team and situation he ends up in. If you just analyze his game, he’s very close. He’s so smart and can think his way around the ice. But, can he get around the ice well enough as an 18 year old? That’s debatable, but probable. Can he match up physical against grown men as an 18 year old? That’s also debatable, but less likely to be probable. I think if Reinhart was going to an established team that could insulate him effectively and protect his minutes, it would be an easy yes for me. But, if he ends up with a team like Florida or Buffalo or Edmonton, teams who lack some size, depth and experience up front, things get more tricky. In the end, with a gun to my head, I say Reinhart plays in the NHL in 2014-15.
Slotting a player in based on need isn’t necessarily the best way to go when it comes to developing prospects but if a player is going to help you win then it shouldn’t be a question. As a winger, Reinhart can slot into the Panthers lineup immediately and make a difference but I don’t think he is best suited there as Cody indicated above.
It might be a blessing in disguise for Reinhart as the Panthers’ do have great depth down the middle. Another year in Kootenay could help his strength and stock before cracking the NHL down the middle later on his career.
Is a center what the Panthers need most with the top pick? I don’t believe so, but a player of Reinhart’s caliber is something that no team can afford to pass on.
Luckily, or unfortunately, for the Panthers it is their choice to make.
A big thank you to Cody Nickolet for the interview.