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Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25, #3: Sam Reinhart

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The former 2nd overall pick looks to branch out this season

Ottawa Senators v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of six staff writers and over 500 readers that ranked players under the age of 25 by September 1st, 2019. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player.

Heading into the last year of his bridge deal, Sam Reinhart is at a key point in his career. It’s a prove-it year for him, and one that could prove to be quite lucrative. Banter about an potential extension, new linemates, and even possibly a return to a familiar position have flooded the conversation surrounding the forward this offseason. This had led to many unanswered questions heading into training camp. One thing is for certain, though: number three in our top 25 under 25 countdown is Sam Reinhart.

Coming off a career-high 65 points, Reinhart is starting to display that he is more than just a player who does the “little things” right. His shot has really developed to compliment the net awareness he diplayed early-on in his career. He has now scored over 20 goals in back-to-back seasons, and three out of his four total. His foot speed has also improved, and while not considered to be above-average in that area, Reinhart has proven to play at a fast-pace by making quick, smart passes to spring his linemates. Using that to his advantage, he widely improved upon his career-high in assists, finishing the 2018-2019 campaign with 43.

Perhaps the biggest development in his game this past season has been his ability to have success outside of Jack Eichel’s shadow. Although they played the majority of the season together, according to Natural Stat Trick, Reinhart maintained a corsi-for percentage, fenwick-for percentage, and goals-for percentage all above 50% when not on the ice with his captain. The same cannot be said for Eichel without his tandem bicycle buddy. This applies to “high-danger” chances as well. In fact, the only area that decreased somewhat significantly when Reinhart was on his own line was the percentage of scoring chances for. This is certainly understandable, since when Reinhart was not with a world-class player like Eichel, he was then usually also not with the team’s leading goal scorer, Jeff Skinner.

This leads us to the position change discussion. Should new head coach Ralph Krueger retry Reinhart at center? Surely, he can drive his own line, but, as general manager Jason Botterill points out, Sam has been successful in doing so from the wing. So, why force the change? Ultimately, it will come down to whether the coaching staff is confident in the center depth within the organization. If Casey Mittelstadt struggles, or Evan Rodrigues finds a role on the wing instead, maybe Reinhart finds his way to the middle once again. With new additions to the wing in Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey, and Victor Olofsson likely on the big club full-time this year, Krueger will be searching for any and all line combinations that can best suit the team.

What will this mean for Sam Reinhart’s potential earnings? Well, that remains a question. While some pondered whether he would receive an extension before the season, it doesn’t appear likely at this point. With a wave of current restricted free-agents still to re-sign with their repective clubs, a better sense of the market is yet to be had. If Reinhart can continue to show growth and improvement, the discussion for his third contract will be a very interesting one come next offseason.