In this series we build the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres roster one by one leading up to the season opener on October 3.
23 yrs. old
6'1" 192 lbs.
Career Stats: 331 games | 87 goals | 118 assists | 205 points | -54
Sam Reinhart was the first official player of the tank-era to be drafted by the Buffalo Sabres. The 2014 second-overall pick was selected out of the WHL as a center but through the years has found his way to a home on the wing and that's where he looks to be this year despite the Sabres lacking a more veteran-type, No. 2 pivot heading into the 2019-20 campaign.
Reinhart enjoyed a breakout season last year with 22 goals and 43 assists and unlike fellow second-overall pick Jack Eichel, who also enjoyed a year-over-year increase in production of around 30%, the Vancouver, BC native may be close to settling in on an annual production rate. Having said that, being on a line with Eichel, who still has enough upside to approach triple-digits, and 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner, as well as being on the No. 1 powerplay unit with those two makes for a very intriguing case that Reinhart could hit a point/game in any given season.
When we look at Reinhart's career projections he will always be compared to Leon Draisaitl, a center drafted by the Edmonton Oilers on pick behind him that year. Draisaitl has had a monstrous start to his NHL career as a 50 goal/55 assist 2018-19 season propelled his career numbers to 312 points (125+187) in 351 games. However, we're looking at two different players here with Reinhart slowly beginning to carve out his own place in the league.
That place in the league, and on the Sabres in particular, seems to be that of a top-line winger, premier set-up man and solid 25-goal scorer who will get incrementally better as his career moves on. Reinhart's draft profile had him as a thinking-man's center who's hockey IQ outweighed his overall skill-set, which was excellent to begin with, and as his career moves forward, about the only thing that's changed is his position on the ice.
All of this bodes well for him as he gets set to enter the final year of a bridge deal that was a steal for the Sabres.
The final year of Reinhart's entry-level contract was a Jekyll/Hyde affair for him. He scored only 11 points in the 2017 portion of the schedule (38 games) before turning it on in the second half with 39 points (20+19) in the final 44 games and that weighed in on his contract negotiations. The question Buffalo GM Jason Botterill had swimming in his head last off-season was, "Which player are we getting?" In the end the two sides agreed on a 2yr./$7.3 million deal and Reinhart responded with a career high 65 points and 43 assists leaving everyone with the impression that this is ultimately the player he is.
That sets him up nicely for his next deal and one would think that the 23 yr. old will be focusing on dollars and term, especially if he meets or exceeds his production from last year. In that case a multi-year deal in the 7-8 year area might be expected with a cap-hit hovering in the $7-8 million range posing new questions for Botterill. Can (or should) the Sabres pay two wingers in excess of $16 million/yr. and, will they be able to move forward in a cap-world with a top-line in the $26 million range?
Those are questions for later. Heading into '19/'20 we know that the Eichel/Skinner/Reinhart top-line ranked up there with some of the better ones in the league last season as the trio accounted for 90 goals and 210 points. What teams were able to do, and what ultimately led to Buffalo's demise post-November, was to keep those players at a similar pace while stifling secondary scoring from the Sabres. It worked as the team plummeted to fifth-worst in the NHL at season's end after being the No. 1 team in the league on November 27.
New head coach Ralph Krueger has a some options at No. 1 right wing and almost anyone playing alongside Skinner and Eichel will see a boost in their production. We also know that the team believes Reinhart can drive a line from the wing meaning they could balance things out a bit by dropping him to the second line. At the end of camp chemistry will determine where everybody fits but that Eichel/Skinner/Reinhart line was too good last year not to get a good, long look at.
And that's how we finish off building Buffalo's top line.
Building the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Jeff Skinner
/ C, Jack Eichel
/ RW, Sam Reinhart