The Buffalo Sabres second-best rookie in 2015-16 has shaken off a slow start to put his stamp on the team’s 2016-17 campaign.
Over the summer, I whipped together a series called Buffalo Sabres Player Projections, in which I tried to predict how well most of the Sabres’ roster would perform in the 2016-17 season.
When it came time to project how well Sam Reinhart would do in his sophomore season, I was pretty optimistic, predicting a 30-25-55 season for Samson (although I did agree in the comments section that it was entirely possible that Reinhart would finish the season with more apples than biscuits, due to his exquisite passing). At the end of my projection, here is what I had to say about Reinhart:
Sam Reinhart might live in the shadow of Jack Eichel, but he was one of the Buffalo Sabres’ best all-around forwards in 2015-16. Look for him to let it be known that he is nobody’s sidekick in 2016-17.
Even though I envisioned Reinhart playing a lot of time alongside Jack Eichel, I was hoping that Samson would prove to Sabres fans that he was a solid playmaker who could thrive with or without Eichel, just as Kyle Okposo has proven that he didn’t become an All-Star solely because of his time spent with John Tavares.
When Eichel went down with a high ankle sprain the day before opening night, then, I naturally looked to Reinhart to pick up some of the slack, as many Sabres fans did. Surely Reinhart would have been motivated to shoulder some of the scoring load until his fellow sophomore returned to the lineup?
Errrrr . . . about that.
To call Reinhart’s October forgettable might be too kind; Samson scored all of 4 points in the Sabres first 8 games, and didn’t put a puck into the back of the net until the Sabres hosted the Florida Panthers at the KeyBank Center on October 29. Truth be told, Reinhart’s first “goal” of the season was a complete fluke – remember this beauty?
Yeah – that was intentional! Without that lucky bounce, Reinhart tallies three assists and no goals in Buffalo’s first month of the 2016-17 . . . this despite knowing that his team needed him to step up dearly in order to make up for Eichel’s absence.
November didn’t start out much better for Reinhart, as he scored twice and added just one assist in Buffalo’s first ten games of Turkey Month. Whispers of the dreaded sophomore slump begin to creep into social media and the comments sections of fan sites everywhere . . . and then Reinhart exploded for 6 goals and 15 assists over the course of the next 26 games.
Talk about flipping the script: 7 points in 18 games, followed by 21 in 26. I know what you are thinking – Reinhart’s resurgence happened right around the time that Eichel returned to the lineup. You are correct – Eichel’s return on November 29 against Ottawa resulted in a goal and an assist for Reinhart, and helped Reinhart string together a four and a five-game points streak – but more importantly, who cares?
Sam Reinhart is all of 21 years-old. His game is still growing and yeah, he may not be a franchise-saver like Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid . . . but then again, he doesn’t have to be. Already this season he has reminded us that he can handle playing at both the wing and the center position, providing the sort of versatility that will help this team overcome injuries and present match-up problems for the opposition. He also has shown that he is the perfect set-up guy for a sniper like Eichel, and he is deadly in front of the net and on the power play (his 12 power play points has him tied with 11 other players in the league, putting him in the top 50). He’s an important piece in Buffalo’s quest to become a contender, and he’s doing just fine.
Reinhart’s critics want to point out that he has only scored 9 goals so far this season, but he will score more goals once the Sabres find some consistency on offense. Of course, therein lies the problem – it has yet to be determined whether coach Dan Bylsma is the right coach for players like Reinhart and Eichel, as they certainly are not grind-em-out players, which is the type of team Bylsma appears to think he owns. It’s a bit depressing to think how much more Reinhart could be scoring if he was playing for a different coach . . . but in the past 26 games, Reinhart is averaging 0.8 points per game, which projects to 66 points over an 82-game season.
I can’t think of too many fans who would be complaining about Reinhart if he established himself as a 60+ points-per-year player, playing in a system that doesn’t necessarily fit his style. In other words, instead of worrying about whether Sam Reinhart was worth a 2nd pick in the NHL Draft, start worrying about how much his growth is being stunted by the Sabres’ current system.
The Buffalo Sabres have one of the NHL’s worst offenses, but the more you watch them the more you begin to realize (if you didn’t already) that it is not entirely the fault of the players on the roster. Sam Reinhart already has as many assists this season as he did in 2015-16, and is on pace to hit 50 points in 2016-17 despite his slow start. He’s kicked the sophomore slump to the curb, which is impressive when you consider that the Sabres have yet to prove they can maximize his potential.