NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
When the New York Islanders selected defenseman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth pick at the 2012 NHL Draft, they knew he wouldn't be ready to step into their lineup right away. It was going to take some time.
The work stoppage last fall allowed Reinhart to return to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, when he continued to hone his skills with hopes of one day anchoring New York's blue line. In 59 games last season, Reinhart (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) had eight goals, 21 assists and a plus-30 rating.
Reinhart, 19, has another season of junior eligibility, which means he can play up to nine games for the Islanders before they have to decide whether to keep him or return him to the Oil Kings. The son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart seems to have every intention of making this an extremely tough decision for Islanders general manager Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano.
"It's a situation where as we go through camp, Garth and myself and the coaches will sit down and evaluate every day and after every game and see where we are," Capuano told NHL.com. "If there's somebody that's going to help us win games and get us to ultimately where we want to be, that guy's going to be penciled in."
The departure of Mark Streit to the Philadelphia Flyers in June created a vacancy on the Islanders' blue line, setting up what is arguably the biggest competition at training camp. Reinhart, who scored in New York's first preseason game, a 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, is battling Matt Donovan and Calvin de Haan for a spot on the roster. Donovan had 93 points over the past two seasons for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League; de Haan is a 2009 first-round pick (No. 12) who missed almost all of last season with a shoulder injury.
"I've improved my skating and the way I think the game," Reinhart said. "I'm going to continue to work, and if I can keep improving in those areas, I think I'll be able to make the transition to the pros that much easier. I don't feel like there's one specific flaw in my game that I need to improve, but there's a bunch of little habits that make the difference between juniors and the pros, and hopefully I can do those things."
Reinhart flashed his offensive ability in New York's preseason opener. With his team down by three goals, he collected the puck inside his own blue line, outskated a Flames defender in the neutral zone then drove into the Calgary end before firing a wrist shot from the left circle past Joey MacDonald.
"I had the puck in our own end and saw some ice, so I took advantage of it," Reinhart said. "I saw the D-man backing up, so I took the shot and fortunately it went in."
Donovan (23) and de Haan (22) are a few years older than the teenage defenseman, so Reinhart is going to have to really stand out the way he did in Calgary in order to win the job. So far, Islanders brass is nothing but impressed.
"He looks really good," director of player development Eric Cairns told the team's website. "This summer, [Griffin] took a step in his off-ice training and really put some good work in. He's working hard on the little details of the game. He's a smart defenseman who moves the puck very well and a big, tall guy with a long reach who can use that to defend."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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