The road to the NHL has been long and winding for defenseman Griffin Reinhart. The legacy player is surrounded by NHL-caliber talent; both brothers Max and Sam, as well as his father Paul, have played in the league.
Reinhart was the fourth-overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, despite being ranked tenth among North American skaters. The New York Islanders, who chose him, saw his size (6-foot-4) and shutdown abilities and jumped at the chance to grab the blueliner early in the draft.
Reinhart spent a pair of seasons in the WHL before he made the opening night roster for the Islanders in 2014. His stint with the big club did not last long, and he was sent down the the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers after only three games.
After the 2014-15 season, Reinhart was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. He split time between the Oilers and the Bakersfield Condors, with 29 games in Edmonton and 30 games in Bakersfield. Though he averaged over 18 minutes a night with the Oilers, Reinhart’s possession metrics were as awful as the team was at the time, and he hasn’t had good look at the NHL since.
His lack of time last season led to exposure at the expansion draft, and his subsequent signing with the Vegas Golden Knights. Reinhart’s two-year, $800,000 contract is just a touch above league minimum and reflective of his back-and-forth relationship between the NHL and AHL.
It is also indicative of the do-or-die position he finds himself in. At 23 years old, Reinhart has this one final opportunity to rid himself of the bust moniker. It’s going to be difficult for him to break in, even with a brand new club. The Knights are stacked with left-handed defensemen, having acquired Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt. Each is an obstacle Reinhart is going to have to overcome to make it onto the Knights’ inaugural roster.
The good news for Reinhart is that he’s been here before. Twice, he’s performed so well in training camp that his team bought into him and gave him a roster spot to start the season.
What has historically been difficult for Reinhart is to maintain that position. Somehow, his impressive camp performances have not translated to his play in regular season games. Despite strong showings in the preseason, his 37 NHL games have been awful. He was drafted for his offensive upside as much as his consistent defensive play, but he has only two assists in his time in the league. His goals-for percentage (43.18) demonstrates his failure to help his team find offense.
Of course, Reinhart is still young, and his best years are likely ahead of him. He will need coach Gerard Gallant to believe in him and put him in a position to succeed, which means pairing Reinhart with a defender who can move the puck, score, and back Reinhart if he makes a mistake.
Even with three professional seasons under his belt, Reinhart is very green. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always in the best situations, and was often paired with a defenseman that couldn’t complement Reinhart’s strengths, nor make up for his weaknesses. In Vegas, with a new coach and a new organization, the Knights could cobble together a solid pairing that would balance better than Reinhart’s previous situations.
If Reinhart is finally going to make a name for himself, the time is now. If he fails to seize this opportunity, he’ll spend the remainder of his career in the minors, officially bearing the mantle of bust. General manager George McPhee has enough faith to give the young blueliner a chance to defend his reputation. Reinhart needs to return the favor and meet the expectations of an NHL defenseman.
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