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Family ties help prospects acclimate to NHL level

by Tal Pinchevsky

TORONTO – Family is an integral part of hockey success for most NHL hopefuls. For top prospects boasting NHL bloodlines, however, family can provide a few additional benefits, including a slightly greater appreciation for exactly what goes into making the NHL and, ultimately, staying there.

Among the 33 prospects at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase, few could attest to the finer details of life in the NHL quite like Sam Reinhart.

The No. 2 pick, by the Buffalo Sabres, at the 2014 NHL Draft is the son of longtime NHL player Paul Reinhart. Sam's brother, Max, was the Calgary Flames' third-round pick (No. 64) in the 2010 draft and another brother, Griffin, was selected No. 4 by the New York Islanders in 2012.

"The first time I really visualized myself trying to make a roster was probably at the draft in Pittsburgh with Griffin and seeing him walk on stage," Sam Reinhart said. "That's been really motivating the last couple of years."

Participating in the annual Rookie Showcase here, Reinhart wasn't the only prospect in attendance boasting an impressive hockey lineage.

Detroit Red Wings prospect Anthony Mantha's grandfather, Andre Pronovost, won the Stanley Cup four times as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Kerby Rychel, the Columbus Blue Jackets forward prospect, is the son of Warren Rychel, who hoisted the Cup in 2006 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

Another attendee, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Vladislav Namestnikov, is the son of one former NHL player, Jevgeni Namestnikov, and the nephew of two others, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Ivan Novoseltsev. As a child, Namestnikov was invited into Kozlov's home dressing room, where he likely crossed paths with his future general manager in Tampa Bay, longtime Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman.

"When I was little, I got to go into the Red Wings locker room with my uncle. Just to see what it's like, it was unreal," Namestnikov said. "My dad watches all my games, so that also helps. He gives me advice."

Growing up in an NHL locker room would be a thrill for any hockey-loving child, although some players admit it's easy to take those luxuries for granted. But by the time these children develop into players on the cusp of realizing their hockey dreams, that appreciation for life in the NHL tends to return.

"When you go to your dad's work with him every week and see guys like Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Ed Belfour, Tomas Kaberle, it's pretty sweet. Then you kind of lose touch of it and think this is normal," said Arizona Coyotes prospect Max Domi, whose father Tie played 16 NHL seasons and was a fan favorite with the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Looking back on it, I was a pretty lucky kid to get that experience to meet those guys and see how they handle themselves on and off the ice, which was remarkable. It's a big reason why I'm still playing hockey today and why I started in the first place."

Reinhart and Namestnikov's lineage notwithstanding, few NHL prospects can match Darnell Nurse's athletic bloodlines. The Edmonton Oilers prospect comes from a family teeming with world-class athletes, almost none of whom play hockey.

Richard Nurse, Darnell's father, played pro football in the Canadian Football League and his mother, Kathy, played college basketball at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His aunt, Raquel Nurse, played college basketball at Syracuse University and his uncle, Donovan McNabb, was an all-pro quarterback in the National Football League. As if that wasn't enough, his older sister, Tamika, also played college basketball and his younger sister, Kia, is committed to play basketball at the University of Connecticut and is the youngest member of Canada's national women's team.

"No matter what sport you play, the best part about it is you can relate to the things that come off the ice or off the field," Nurse said. "They always have a different story I can relate to, whether it's my dad talking about his days in the CFL or my sister on the national team. It's always fun to be a part of that environment."

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