I don't think it's been a smooth ride but it's been progressively getting better and better as it's gone along. That's all you can really ask for as a player, as a developing player, that you keep progressing as you go along. - Max Reinhart on his 2013-14 season
ABBOTSFORD, BC -- We've all heard of sophomore slumps.
Players from a whole spectrum of sports under-performing in their second year much to the disappointment of management, fans and the players themselves.
Apparently Heat forward Max Reinhart didn't get the memo.
In 32 games this season, Reinhart has collected seven goals and 25 points. In fact, the 21-year-old matched his rookie season point total of 21 points in 41 fewer games. Certainly it's been a campaign that has put the idea of a sophomore slump to rest for the West Vancouver native. However, Reinhart hasn't looked at his season as a success yet, rather, a work in progress.
"I don't think it's been a smooth ride," he reasoned, "but it's been progressively getting better and better as it's gone along. That's all you can really ask for as a player, as a developing player, that you keep progressing as you go along."
The biggest difference in his game is simple. It all boils down to experience and confidence, according to Reinhart - two factors he's acquired through 15 big league games with the Calgary Flames and the trust of his coaches.
"That's huge. It takes a lot of pressure off a young player like myself knowing that if you make a mistake, you're not sitting on the bench where last year that was kind of the case. I wasn't willing to take as many risks. I think if you're going to put up point totals, you need the confidence to make mistakes and I think I've got that right now because of the trust I have with the coaching staff here."
That level confidence and trust has found himself playing top line minutes, including first unit power play and penalty kill time on most nights. For Heat head coach Troy G. Ward, the juxtaposition between the Reinhart of yesteryear and the Reinhart of this year is a sense of clarity for the young former Kootenay Ice alumus.
"I think it's sorted itself out as to where he's at in the organization, where he stands, where he sees himself and where they see him," Ward explained. "So I think it's been easier for him mentally to be more focused here and compete on a consistent basis than trying to be somewhere else. He's more about his output right now than he is about his surroundings. Last year he was concerned with his surroundings and not so much his output. Those things clouded his ability to play at a higher level.
"He's also matured as a person. He's matured a lot, which has helped him in his ability to try and decipher things. He's really matured, so that part has been really good for him. You know, right now he's at a point in his career where if you're not going to play on the top two lines in Calgary, you've either got to turn yourself into a 'rusher,' 'crusher' or they're going to make you an 'usher'. It's real simple … So things are starting to come to a bit more of a pin point focus. What type of focus? It's pin point. It's more like, 'Okay, I have to produce offensively and if that's who I am, I can't just keep talking about it. I have to start showing it.' "
In April of 2013, Reinhart received a reward by getting a chance to put on a Calgary Flames sweater. In his 11 NHL games last season, he picked up three points, including his first career big league goal against the Edmonton Oilers. While a cup of coffee in the NHL is never a bad thing for a young player, Ward saw the promotion as only half of the equation in what would later help the Flames' 2010 third rounder tremendously.
"I think that [cup of coffee] helped," said the Heat bench boss.
"I also think not turning the corner and not being the guy to go up has helped him as well. He's found out, 'Oh, there's other things I've got to be able to do here. I've got to check, I've got to play harder. These things all have to come into play. If I don't, my skill is a waste.' So I think he's had it both ways to be honest with you. He's had success in going up and he's learned about what he has to do, but I also think he's been punched in the nose and he's like, 'Hmm, maybe I'm not the guy to go up again. Granlund's gone up, now it's Street again, maybe soon it'll be Knight. Where do I stand?' So I think that's been humbling too.
"But I think with all of that, what he has figured out through all that development is he just wants to become the best he can be and because of all of that, he's been really focused. I give him credit."