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Sabres forward Reinhart returned to junior hockey

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Sam Reinhart's time with the Buffalo Sabres this season has ended.

The Sabres returned the 6-foot-1, 185-pound center, the second pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, to his junior team, the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, on Friday.

"The minutes he got here, the situations he played in here, suggested to me it was time to get back," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said.

The Sabres could play Reinhart in nine games before deciding whether or not to keep him beyond his 10th game and start the clock on his three-year, entry-level contract or return him to junior hockey. Reinhart played his ninth game against the Boston Bruins on Thursday; the Sabres' next game is Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"He's not going to learn a whole lot there on the ice, I don't think," Murray said. "I told him I know he can go back there [Kootenay] and be a 120-point guy in a full season playing three-quarter speed, but that's not what we want him to go back there and do. We want him to get stronger and he's going to have to find a way to … find a way to slip out on his own to get to the gym and get stronger."

Reinhart is 18 years old and still maturing physically. While Murray and Sabres coach Ted Nolan said they weren't concerned with Reinhart's skills or hockey intelligence, his strength was a problem.

"We all know he's going to be a big, big player for us down the road, but sometimes that human development just happens naturally," Nolan said. "He's going to get stronger naturally. He's going to develop and he'll go back and pump weights. Once he becomes mature as a young man he'll be fine.

"I think that's the biggest thing is his strength factor that kept him away. Is he good enough to play? He probably is, but banging off the puck, I don't think, in the long run, it would be good for your confidence.”

In nine games Reinhart had no goals and one assist. He averaged 10:21 of ice time per game, second-fewest among Sabres forwards, and played on the fourth line in his final six games; he also was a healthy scratch once.

At 2-8-1, the Sabres are 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference. Their 12 non-shootout goals are tied for the fewest in the League.

"The start we're off to as a team, I think, has an effect on a young guy," Murray said. "A young guy plays to what the team is doing. If the team is really successful, I think some individual success comes to young players. If the team is going through a rough patch, that kid will go through the rough patch with the team.

"The 18-year-old is not the guy that can get you out of the rough patch; I think he's part of the tide. When the tide's high, he's high. When the tide's low, he's low. I think that's what we saw."

Kootenay will be Reinhart's next stop, but Hockey Canada could benefit from his return to junior hockey. Reinhart likely will be a significant player for Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto. He had two goals and three assists for Canada at the 2014 WJC.

"Great players have gone back to junior; 99 percent of the players that play here have gone back to junior," Murray said. "He's still going to get something out of it. He's going to get the World Junior; hopefully [Kootenay] is a playoff team. Every playoff game you play at any level is experience you can't take away from.

"His experience has to come from short-term goals, I believe; the long-term goal being getting stronger which is the NHL goal."

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