Sam Reinhart has been waiting for this moment since he entered the WHL.
The Kootenay Ice captain is currently in Philadelphia, where he will likely hear his name called in the opening selections for the 2014 NHL Draft on Friday evening.
He will be the third Reinhart sibling to hear his named called at the podium, as older brothers Max (Calgary, 64th overall, 2010) and Griffin (NYI, 4th overall, 2012) are already property of NHL teams.
The youngest Reinhart has been on the NHL’s radar since his rookie season in the Western Hockey League, where he set a franchise record for points with the Kootenay Ice as a 16-year-old.
Since then, he’s added some impressive accomplishments to his ever-expanding resume.
And professional scouts have certainly taken notice.
Reinhart is at the top of most lists—he holds down the third overall spot in the North American Skaters category with NHL’s Central Scouting bureau, while occupying first overall in the International Scouting Service (ISS) rankings.
He’s in some pretty elite company, with roughly four or five players who could justifiably get the first overall selection on Friday.
Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts, OHL), Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert, WHL), Sam Bennett (Kingston, OHL) and Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa, OHL) are all in the running to hear their name first once the draft kicks off.
Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill said all the attention on his star centre is certainly warranted.
“The media hype is true, because he is everything in a player that you want,” McGill said. “He’s smart defensively, he puts himself in a position to get pucks back—not only to get them back himself, but to get them back for other players. He anticipates the play tremendously.
“With all those attributes, I think the biggest thing that I see that sets him apart from a lot of players, even on this team, is his will to win and his competitiveness is unbelievable.”
Stepping into the spotlight
Reinhart has been to Florida once as a kid. Never to Buffalo.
However, he could end up in either place, as the former holds the first overall pick, with the latter owning the second selection.
But that’s never a sure thing considering the potential for draft-day trades.
And, as mentioned, there is no consensus on the order of who could go where at the top end of the first round.
But he has lived vicariously through that kind of experience, watching Griffin go fourth overall to the Islanders at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh and even earlier, with Max getting picked up in the third round by Calgary in 2010.
He’s only had to look to his siblings to see how they dealt with their emotions leading up to, and on, draft day.
“It’s not so much talking with them, it’s more watching from a distance and seeing how they handle certain situations,” said Reinhart.
“We all handle them pretty similarly, and don’t let it distract us too much.”
He’s used to being in the spotlight, especially this year during an Ice road trip when he returned to his hometown of Vancouver to much media fanfare clamouring to talk about his draft-status.
“I’ve been able to block it out for the most part and do what you have to do, from a media standpoint,” Reinhart said.
“You have to keep that in the back of your head, right afterwards it’s definitely out of your system and when it’s time to go on the ice and play, I’m not thinking about that stuff.”
Much has been made about Ekblad, the Barrie Colts rearguard who could be the first defenceman in over a decade to be chosen with the first-overall selection.
Reinhart his familiar with his OHL counterpart, having played with him on the U18 and U20 national teams.
“He’s a nice guy, a good guy to be around,” said Reinhart. “I roomed with him a couple years ago at U18 camp in Toronto, so I got to know him there, and obviously, with the World Juniors, I became a lot closer to him.
“We’re really familiar with each other, we’re good buddies and we still talk throughout the year.”
All in the family
Sam Reinhart has hockey in his blood.
His father, Paul, is a retired professional hockey player, spending 12 years in the NHL with the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks.
Three sons, Max, Griffin and Sam were born within three years of each other, and all eventually began following in their father’s footsteps.
Max was first, selected by the Kootenay Ice in the fourth round of the 2007 Bantam Draft, while Griffin was taken third overall two years later by the modern Edmonton Oil Kings franchise.
The youngest sibling got his shot in 2010, when the Ice—the same team who took Max three years prior—scooped him up 15th overall in the first round.
He made his WHL debut with the team during their playoff run to the WHL championship in 2011, and joined the club full time after the summer.
His 28 goals and 34 assists set a new franchise record for rookie scoring, and he was awarded with WHL rookie of the year honours.
He captured a bronze medal with Canada’s U18 team in 2012 offseason, but took gold at the same event a year later, and also at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
He continued his torrid scoring pace in his second year with the Ice, tallying 35 goals and 50 assists for 85 points in 72 games in 2013.
In addition to his natural talent on the ice, Reinhart was also recognized for his leadership abilities, being named an alternate captain, and eventually, team captain for the 2013/14 season.
Crunching the numbers
It goes without saying that this last season was a big one for Reinhart.
With a late birthday (Nov. 6th, 1995), Reinhart had an extra year to develop, extending his draft eligibility to 2014, rather than the year before.
He continued to burn up the scoresheet, collecting 36 goals and 69 assists for 105 points—tying a franchise record set by Ice alumn Jarret Stoll, who is currently enjoying a professional NHL career with the Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings. His 69 assists set a franchise record, beating Stoll’s old one, and he set another one with a 22-game assist streak.
“I think consistency is the biggest thing, being your best every night. If you look at the pro players these days, they don’t take a night off and that’s the biggest thing I’ve been focusing on the last few years,” said Reinhart.
“I think this year in particular, I made a big jump with that.”
His performance in the WHL raised eyebrows, and he made rosters for CHL events and Canada’s U20 national team.
Reinhart was named to the WHL’s roster for the Subway Super Series, and he also suited up in the CHL’s Top Prospects game.
However, the crown jewel of his accomplishments this year was making Team Canada and competing in the World Junior Championship alongside his older brother Griffin.
After a disappointing fourth-place finish by the Canadians, Reinhart returned to the Ice and elevated his game, leading the club into the first-round of the playoffs where he handily dismantled the Calgary Hitmen defence and posted 17 points in six games.
Despite building a 3-1 series lead against the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Tabbies mounted a comeback and won Game 7 to knock the Ice out of the second round of the WHL playoffs.
Reinhart was recognized as the WHL Player of the Year, beating out Mitch Holmberg of the Spokane Chiefs, and also won Most Sportsmanlike Player honours, picking up the same award at the CHL level, beating out nominees from the OHL and QMJHL.
After the season ended, he even got an invite to go to training camp with Canada’s men’s team for the World Championship, where he got a taste of how professional hockey players conduct themselves on and off the ice.
Writing the next chapter
As much as Ice fans will want to see Reinhart wearing Kootenay colours next season, the chances of that happening are slim.
With the realities of a post-salary cap NHL world, younger players are increasingly making the jump into professional hockey, especially the ones who are chosen at the top of the first round.
It’s not a sure thing that Reinhart will stick in the NHL next year, but his odds are pretty good.
But even if he does make it, there will always be room for improvement.
“Like every other player at this age, they got to get quicker, faster and stronger, without losing their ability to become slower,” said McGill. “So not necessarily getting bigger, it’s just stronger and faster and a little bit of a change of pace with the puck.
“He’s got real good speed, he’s got real good power, the real good players develop a change of pace to create some deception against the opponent.”
The NHL Draft will be split into two parts this year at the Wells Fargo Centre, with the first round on Friday evening, followed by the rest of them on Saturday.