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Sam Reinhart: Looking Up Down South

Reinhart didn’t sniff the playoffs in Buffalo. He’s ready to push hard for the post-season with the Panthers.
Sam Reinhart

By Erin Brown

As day 1 of the NHL draft wrapped up in July, news of a trade involving the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers surfaced on social media. Sam Reinhart was rumored to be part of the deal, but the details were scant as midnight approached on the East Coast. Sabres GM Kevyn Adams wouldn’t discuss the chatter, nor would Cats GM Bill Zito.

By the time Reinhart could officially call himself a Panther the next afternoon, his built-up excitement was hard to miss – even through a computer screen. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to Florida?” Reinhart said. “Nobody hates the sun.”

Florida parted with a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2022 and goalie prospect Devon Levi for the winger. After seven years of rebuilding in upstate New York, a new dawn broke on Reinhart’s career. “It was a unique position I’d never been in,” he said. “As a hockey player, you’re more used to playing than the actual business side of it. Pretty stressful, but obviously thrilled with how everything went down. It was worth the stress for me.”

While expectations are high for Reinhart to produce in Florida, the pressure of carrying an offense should lighten. The Panthers have plenty of talent up front, starting with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, and a supporting cast that has placed Florida near the top of the NHL in goals per game in back-to-back seasons.

The West Vancouver native only makes the mix more potent. Reinhart has registered 20-goal seasons in all but one full campaign of his career. Even last year, when Buffalo finished with a league-worst 15 wins in a shortened season, he matched his personal best of 25 goals. “He’s going to be a great addition for us,” Zito said. “He gives us flexibility, scoring, playmaking. He can play anywhere in our lineup, center, wing, power play. We’re thrilled.”

In theory and on paper, Reinhart fits in nicely alongside the two-way Barkov, giving the pivot a scoring threat on the right to balance Carter Verhaeghe on the left. Reinhart also complements scrappy Sam Bennett and elite playmaker Huberdeau on the Cats’ second line. And if coach Joel Quenneville shuffles his units, Reinhart might even find himself with Anton Lundell, Florida’s top pick in 2020 who anchored HIFK’s first line last season in Finland. 

“It’s exciting and motivating all at the same time,” Reinhart said. “Who knows at this point how it’s going to fit together? I feel I’m someone you can slot anywhere, and I’m going to do my best to make it work. You look at the possibilities and it’s nothing short of excitement.”

The son of former NHLer Paul, Reinhart joined a group of seven Panthers who are 27 or younger and under contract for at least three seasons. And this group does not include Barkov and Huberdeau, who are due new deals within the next two years. “They’re all sort of in that same part of their careers where they can grow together and hopefully enter their primes together,” Zito said.

Reinhart envisions his time in Florida extending beyond the three-year, $19.5-million deal he signed in August. “I don’t think I can stress enough that both parties are confident this is going to work out and ultimately be something longer than that,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to get down (to Florida), get familiar and start in this win-now mentality that’s been building for years.”

Fitting in shouldn’t be difficult. Reinhart knows Aaron Ekblad and Anthony Duclair from his junior days playing for Team Canada. He also has a bond with Ekblad and Bennett over their shared experience of being top-five picks in 2014. “With those two guys, we played on a few Team Canadas together, so the relationships grow,” Reinhart said. “Leading into the draft, you’re brought to so many different places and you just spend that extra time together.”

Team success may be what Reinhart craves the most. He’s never played on a squad that finished in the top five in its division, let alone be part of a playoff race or the post-season. It will be up to Florida’s young core, who are starting to grasp the challenges of a long run, to pay forward the lessons they have learned to Reinhart. 

Note: This story originally appeared in The Hockey News' Meet the New Guy issue.

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