By Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Sam Reinhart spent plenty of time growing up in Vancouver playing hockey in an upstairs playroom with brothers Max and Griffin. The sons of longtime NHL defenceman Paul Reinhart broke a few windows, but it was worth it as they grew up in the game.
Max was a third-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2010, but it took Sam seeing Griffin put on a New York Islanders jersey as the fourth overall pick in 2012 to start to visualize what his draft-day moment could be like. That’ll come June 27 in Philadelphia as Sam Reinhart is expected to be one of the top three picks.
Once that sinks in and Reinhart goes about preparing for his first NHL training camp, he will draw from the experience he had in early May with Canada’s world hockey championship team. The Kootenay Ice forward thinks he’s ready for the pros because he joined Team Canada for its training camp and exhibition game against Switzerland in Zurich.
“I got a little taste of it at the international level for a couple days in Switzerland,” he said Friday at the NHL’s annual scouting combine. “It was pretty amazing to see how I handled practice one compared to practice three and really picked up the pace and felt comfortable pretty quick out there.”
Reinhart had to think quick well before he ever stepped onto the ice. He got the call from Hockey Canada on Friday night and needed to decide whether to get on a plane to Europe Saturday afternoon.
“It was a pretty quick turnaround to kind of drop everything and go over there,” the 18-year-old centre said. “It was a tough decision at the time but really turned out to be a positive experience. It’s really paying off right now.”
Reinhart didn’t have much more to prove. He had represented Canada the under-18 world championships twice, winning gold in 2013, and then was on this past year’s world-junior team.
Named WHL player of the year for putting up 105 points in 60 games with the Ice, Reinhart is third among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
But it didn’t hurt Reinhart to show what he could do surrounded by players who will soon be his peers. He already knew Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, Flames centre Sean Monahan and Canucks defenceman Jason Garrison, but being on the ice with them in that environment was a different story.
“He didn’t look out of place,” Team Canada coach Dave Tippett said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “He carried himself like a pro player. He picked up the things we were trying to do in the drills very well. The biggest thing you could tell, and it’s probably a little bit because of his upbringing â€” he wasn’t intimidated by the situation at all and just jumped in there and played.”
Even though Reinhart was an extra forward for the exhibition game, Tippett liked how he made the most out of his eight or nine minutes of ice time. Had an injury occurred before the team left Zurich, there was some discussion about adding Reinhart to the team, which would’ve made him the youngest by two months over Nathan MacKinnon.
Reinhart worked to show what he could do if that happened.
“You’re not going in with the mind-set that you’re coming home in a couple days,” he said. “You know obviously the odds are you will. But you never know what happens at that point.”
Ultimately, Reinhart got sent home while the Canadian team went on to Minsk. But not before he made a positive impression on Tippett and his staff.
“He’s a mature kid,” Tippett said. “Obviously I think being from a family that has grown up around pro hockey, that helps the situation. You could tell that he wasn’t in awe of the situation at all. He just got in there and got to work and fit in well with the group.”
Reinhart is part of a bigger group at this week’s combine outside Toronto as one of 117 of the top prospects going through interviews and then fitness testing Saturday. Along with Kingston centre Sam Bennett and Barrie defenceman Aaron Ekblad, though, Reinhart is part of the small faction of potential No. 1 selections, whether the Florida Panthers keep or trade the pick.
The six-foot-one, 186-pound playmaker is known for his hockey sense and vision. Of course there are things he feels like he needs to get better at, including lower-body strength.
“It just doesn’t happen over a summer, I’ve been focusing on it for a long time now and I feel confident with it,” Reinhart said.
Another question is his speed, but if Reinhart himself was at all worried, Zurich made him feel better.
“I felt with the pace over there I kept up pretty well,” he said. “I felt really confident with it, leading into the next day and it was amazing how much you improved.”
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