For much of 2015, one name has consumed the minds of Buffalo Sabres fans—Jack Eichel. He’s been the subject of countless headlines, his jersey has flown off the shelves; he’s almost single-handedly rejuvenated an organization that endured two of the most embarrassing regular seasons in NHL history.
He’s the reason why more than 17,000 fans packed the First Niagara Center for a scrimmage in the middle of July earlier this year. All Sabres fans wanted was to see a first glimpse of this young superstar wearing blue and gold while gliding down the ice.
But after that scrimmage, talk among Sabres fans was a little different from what it had been for months upon months prior. Although Eichel played admirably, there was one player in particular who stole the show that night as he drastically outplayed everyone else on the ice en route to two goals, an assist, and a beautiful shootout goal.
Oh, yeah. That guy. What ever happened to him?
Well, he hasn’t just been sitting around watching Netflix or playing Xbox. Reinhart had an incredibly busy 2014-2015 season, one that saw him jump between four different levels of hockey competition while traveling the world. After his nine-game tryout with the Sabres, he was returned to the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice. There he proved emphatically that he was an upcoming NHL stud by tallying 65 points in 47 regular season games, and nine points in seven playoff appearances.
When he wasn’t on the ice, he was building himself up with a new weight-lifting regiment that he’s continued using to this day.
“When I went back to junior, it’s challenging,” said Reinhart. “I want to be 100 percent every day when I went on the ice. But to be able to get in the gym and to be where I was at the end of the year, both on and off the ice, I think was essential for me.”
In between his escapades in the juniors, Reinhart put on his most impressive performance at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Serving as an alternate captain alongside Connor McDavid, Reinhart led Team Canada to a gold medal. You could say he literally led them to the gold medal, since he scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal match against Team Russia. Reinhart finished the tournament with five goals and 11 points, leading all players in both categories.
He finished the season by making a brief appearance for the AHL’s Rochester Americans, playing three games and adding three assists to his expansive point sheet for the year.
“I was excited for that opportunity,” Reinhart said about the AHL. “It allowed me to go into the offseason knowing what the pro game was like. Obviously a little different than the NHL level but with that being said, a lot different than the junior level as well. It was a step up. I had taken some away from my game on ice throughout the year but I was preparing for another chance professionally. It was motivating to get that opportunity and made me confident going into the offseason.”
Reinhart finally had some downtime up until the July 10th scrimmage at First Niagara Center, when he donned blue and gold once again, and reminded Sabres fans exactly why we coveted him as the second overall draft pick in 2014. He further hammered home his point that he’s NHL-ready with more than one impressive outing in the preseason, where he made a habit of tossing crisp passes to his teammates and setting up an eventual goal.
While Sabres fans had their eyes locked on Eichel for much of the last year, Reinhart was quietly giving them insurance that our beloved draft pick of 2015 won’t be the only player to give this franchise a shot in the arm.
Eichel, himself, has recognized this. Ever since this past summer’s development camp, Eichel has viewed Reinhart as something of a mentor in addition to a teammate, and has tried to model himself off of Reinhart in plenty of ways.
“Basic things, like how to handle yourself, how to carry yourself, preparation; things like that,” said Eichel. “Getting to bed at a good hour every night, taking care of yourself, what you’re eating; so I’ve learned things like that from him that the staff here has also emphasized. But [Reinhart’s] obviously a leader and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and learn things from him.”