When one thinks of the future of the Buffalo Sabres, the first names that come to mind are most likely Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. The two were selected second overall in the 2014 and 2015 NHL Entry Drafts respectively, and are expected to headline the roster when the Sabres are eventually a Stanley Cup contending team.
Reinhart’s road to the NHL has had bumps here and there, but has been relatively smooth in recent months. Although fans didn’t expect Reinhart to have a 30 goal season in his first year as a Sabre, they at least expected him play well enough to stay with the Sabres for the entirety of the season. Reinhart failed to make any impact in the 2014-15 season, registering only one assist in nine games before returning to the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. He used his return to the juniors to improve his game, putting up 65 points in 47 games with Kootenay, and eventually registering three assists during a three game stint with the Rochester Americans following the conclusion of the Ice’s season.
Sabres fans have seen a different Sam Reinhart thus far in the 2015-16 NHL season, a Sam Reinhart that looks as though he can actually compete in the NHL. Reinhart has been playing on a line with fellow rookie sensation Jack Eichel, as well as Zemgus Girgensons, and has been quietly putting up points that rank him among of the top of the league in rookie scoring.
Reinhart has 19 points, good for sixth among NHL rookies. Of his 19 points, 12 of them are goals, tying him with Arizona Coyotes’ forward Anthony Duclair for the fifth most amount of goals among rookies in the NHL. Reinhart is currently on pace for 38 points, and could be a serious contender for the Calder Memorial Trophy for the NHL’s best rookie once the 2015-16 season comes to a close.
Although his improvement has gone relatively unnoticed throughout the league, Reinhart’s teammates have noticed the strides he has taken as of late.
“I remember when he came to development camps and things like that and he’s taken full strides,” Marcus Foligno said. “He’s headed in the right direction to be a heck of a hockey player and a huge part of this team.”
Reinhart’s linemate, Jack Eichel, is also having a heck of a rookie season. Eichel has been one of the most popular hockey players in Buffalo for well over a year now, with fans tracking him while he was a member of the Boston University Terriers out of hope that he would one day be a Sabre.
Eichel made his NHL debut on October 8, 2015, when the Sabres opened up the 2015-16 season against the Ottawa Senators. Eichel was able to score his first career goal in his debut, and hasn’t slowed down since.
Eichel has 27 points, ranking him third on the Sabres in scoring and fourth amongst NHL rookies. Although he identifies himself as a “pass first” type of player, Eichel has 13 goals to go along with 14 assists, ranking him third amongst rookie goal scorers.
Eichel will be the player to lead the Sabres into the future, and thus far, he has lived up to expectations. Due to the strong outings he has been having in recent months, Eichel has been averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time throughout the past number of games. In a recent interview with PuckDaddy, Sabres head coach Dan Byslma was asked if Eichel was given this ice time because of his potential or because of his performances.
“It’s not so much given to him based on his expectation or based on his potential,” Bylsma said. “He has earned the right to play that much and in those situations.”
Bylsma went onto say that Eichel was added to the penalty kill because “he’s earned it.”
While Reinhart and Eichel are expected to be great players in the future, their recent performances have showed that they can contribute to the team now. Reinhart recently scored his first career hat trick against the Winnipeg Jets, putting him on pace to score 23 goals this year. Eichel is also on pace to score over 20 goals in his rookie campaign, and if they continue the pace they are on, the Sabres will have two rookie 20 goal scorers for the first time since 1975, when Danny Gare and Peter McNab completed the feat.
Although Reinhart and Eichel are still developing their skills, they have already played huge roles in the majority of the Sabres 17 wins thus far this year. Reinhart and Eichel are only going to improve as their careers progress, which should make Sabres fans excited, and fans of the other 29 teams in the NHL frightened.