UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Griffin Reinhart was 19 years old when he arrived at training camp with the New York Islanders last September, but he made a strong case to stay with them rather than be sent back to his junior team, the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League.
New York's first-round pick (No. 4) at the 2012 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-4, 217-pound defenseman impressed Islanders brass at training camp and scored a goal in a preseason game against the Calgary Flames. But instead of throwing him into the fire at the sport's highest level, it was determined Reinhart would be better served returning to the WHL.
In his final season of junior hockey, Reinhart learned what it takes to become a champion. The Oil Kings captain played 66 games in the regular season and playoffs, and combined for 34 points and a plus-31 rating, leading Edmonton to a Memorial Cup championship.
"It was tons of fun," Reinhart said this week at Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders held their development camp. "It's something that you don't really realize right away. It's one of the hardest trophies to win. It doesn't really sink in right away. It still doesn't feel that real. But it's something you'll remember for a lifetime.
"Everybody likes winners, whether it's at the junior level, AHL, NHL; everybody likes to have guys who play on winning teams. You learn things from that."
In hindsight, it appears the Islanders made the correct decision when they sent Reinhart back to Edmonton for more seasoning. Winning a Memorial Cup was an unforgettable experience, and Reinhart is pleased with his development, but he's also itching to play in the NHL.
"You never know," Reinhart said. "I wasn't up here so you can't really say for sure, but I'm going to take the positives out of it. [There's] nothing I can do about it now. I was happy with the year that I had and really happy with the junior team. I'm going to take all the positives and try to apply it up here."
Everybody likes winners, whether it's at the junior level, AHL, NHL; everybody likes to have guys who play on winning teams. You learn things from that. - Griffin Reinhart
Islanders coach Jack Capuano sees a lot of positives. Last season, he maintained a consistent dialogue with Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal (who has since become coach of the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League) regarding Reinhart's development. As far as Capuano is concerned, winning a championship in his final junior season bodes well for Reinhart's future.
"Anytime you can put a player in that situation … he played a lot of minutes," Capuano said. "He was a horse for those guys and gained a great deal of experience, and most importantly winning a championship and how hard it is and how tough it is. The fact that he was able to do that, we're proud of him, and now he's going to get an opportunity come September."
Knowing there's a strong chance he'll make his NHL debut when the Islanders open the 2014-15 season on Oct. 10 against the Carolina Hurricanes, Reinhart has been working on the things that will help make it a smooth transition from the junior level. He said he believes he's made huge strides since the Islanders made him a top-five draft pick two years ago.
"I think my skating's been improving a lot," Reinhart said. "I think my decision-making's getting even better and quicker. I always thought I had good decision-making, but being up here you need to make it quicker, and I think I've done a good job of that … puck moving and getting some pucks through and overall defensive-zone stick play and all that is really getting better too."
Should this be Reinhart's time with the Islanders, there's no doubt he will have Dec. 27 circled on his calendar. That will be New York's first game against the Buffalo Sabres, who used the second pick of the 2014 draft on center Sam Reinhart, Griffin's younger brother. Many believe Sam will play in the NHL as early as this season; he had 105 points (36 goals, 69 assists) in 60 games for the WHL's Kootenay Ice in 2013-14. Griffin's older brother, Max, was a third-round pick (No. 64) of the Flames in 2010.
Griffin was in Philadelphia for Sam's big moment on June 27 when he was drafted by the Sabres, three spots before the Islanders took left wing Michael Dal Colle.
"That was really cool. I was hoping he'd get drafted No. 5," Reinhart said of his brother. "Not because I'd go higher than him, but for him to be an Islander. But I knew that wasn't going to happen, so my whole family is really proud of him."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor