SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sam Reinhart is off to the best start of his NHL career with the Florida Panthers this season, and the center is looking for that to translate to a return to the Stanley Cup Final, as well as bigger numbers on his next contract.

In his 10th season in the League, he leads the Panthers with 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists) in 24 games, on pace to surpass his NHL career-high of 82 points (33 goals, 49 assists) in 78 games in 2021-22, his first season with Florida following seven with the Buffalo Sabres.

Tied for second in the League in goals, he is on pace for 54 goals, which would shatter his NHL career high of two seasons ago, and his fast start places him squarely in the spotlight when the Panthers (14-8-2) host the Dallas Stars at Amerant Bank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; MAX, TNT).

Reinhart's play is a big reason why Florida is in third place in the competitive Atlantic Division, one point behind the Detroit Red Wings and seven behind the first-place Boston Bruins. The Panthers are striving to return to the Cup Final, where it lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights after defeating the Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“As time goes, you look back at the playoff run more and more but what we took from it is that we can win at that level,’’ Reinhart said. “Obviously coming up short against an absolute powerhouse in Vegas, you learn what we did well in other series and learned what they did better in the Final. The biggest thing is having confidence in ourselves which is why, over the past 10 years, you see teams having sustained success. You go through the experience, learn from it and come back stronger.

“It's been really fun and this is the time of year where I really get started. One of the factors I attribute is playing hockey until June last year. It didn't take as much time getting comfortable on the ice again.”

Listening to Reinhart's teammates, that comfort level is pretty high.

“I think he is the same player he was in Buffalo, only now he is getting a lot more recognition and being on a winning team helps that,’’ said center Evan Rodrigues, who was a teammate of Reinhart’s with the Sabres and reunited with him in Florida after signing as a free agent July 2.

“He has this confidence, a swagger about him, and he is a leader around the net. He always had the goals and the points in Buffalo, but they are being noticed a lot more now. You put him in a spot to succeed and that is just what he is going to do.”

Buffalo selected Reinhart with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and though he was one of the team’s top offensive drivers throughout his tenure, the Sabres struggled and failed to make the playoffs in any of his seven seasons. 

Buffalo traded the restricted free agent to Florida on July 24, 2021, getting a 2022 first-round pick and goalie Devon Levi in return. Reinhart signed a three-year contract with the Panthers on Aug. 11, 2021.

“He was the go-to guy in Buffalo and one of the top dogs, and that is still the case here,” said Florida defenseman Brandon Montour, who spent parts of three seasons with Reinhart and was traded to the Panthers by the Sabres on April 10, 2021. 

“But we have better depth here and a more competitive team. Just bringing his style here, you can see how good of a player he is and how much he helps us. I was excited when he was traded here, not only for what he can do on the ice but for the guy he is off of it. He is a true professional. It is nice being a teammate of his again. He spent way more time in Buffalo than I did and I think it was time for him to be moved. He needed a change of scenery.”

Reinhart said, “Florida was high on my list as a team I wanted to go to, they had players I wanted to surround myself and I was able to control [the trade] a little bit. We play with a style that has winning in mind.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice calls Reinhart the “second-most intuitive player I have ever coached’’ behind Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis and says when Reinhart’s playing days are done, he says he could become either a coach or a general manager “if he wants to.’’ 

“He can tell you exactly what is going on in the game while on that bench,’’ Maurice said, “and he uses that around the ice. He has come into his prime as far as physical maturity, coupled with great playing experience.’’

Last season, Maurice split up Reinhart and center Aleksander Barkov not because they were failing to create plenty of offensive chances, but because the team was hurting for wins and the “numbers just were not there.”

Maurice reunited them to to begin this season and not only were the opportunities there, but Reinhart, usually a slow starter, was making them count.

So far this season, Reinhart has four multigoal games, with his team going 3-1 in those contests. 

“They compliment each other so well,” Maurice said. “Barkov is a big, physical specimen who has the speed and the hands; Sam is just very, very bright. He is a pro. I don’t know what he does outside of the rink, but when he is here, he is 100 percent dialed in. He never gives you the impression he is trying to race out to go do something else. He works to get better at his craft; he is a student of the game and is always trying to get better.”

As for the future, Reinhart and the Panthers have some work to do; he can become an unrestricted free agent for the first time after this season, and he and Florida general manager manager Bill Zito each has expressed a desire to get something done down the road.

“I'm comfortable with it being ongoing,” Reinhart said. “They know I want to be here and I know they want me here. It’s just a matter of getting it done. It's not something that's distracting me now nor will it in the future. We’re on the same page right now and know where we both are.”