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Sabres' Reinhart boosted by extra year, Eichel arrival

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The attention being paid to Jack Eichel, the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, at Buffalo Sabres development camp has helped keep eyes off the second pick from the previous year, Sam Reinhart, and that could be mutually beneficial.

Reinhart entered his second development camp in Buffalo last week and, opposed to how camp went in 2014, the spotlight is decidedly pointed on Eichel instead of Reinhart.

"It's just as motivating to come here and be with all the guys that are really in the same position as me," Reinhart said last week. "With new guys, the level of competition is still right there. I feel a lot better just from being on the ice one time that I did last year."

Last season, Reinhart played nine games with the Sabres before he was sent back to his junior team, the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. In his short time in Buffalo, Reinhart had one assist, two penalty minutes, and averaged 10:22 of ice time per game. In four of those games, Reinhart played less than 10 minutes.

In Kootenay, Reinhart had more success. He scored 19 goals with 65 points in 47 games. Reinhart also helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto.

Reinhart's skating and strength were areas the Sabres wanted to see him improve when they sent him back to junior hockey. Skating is the most basic thing players need to do, but getting it done in the best, most efficient way can take time.

"I'm a lot more confident with it this year than last, there's no question about that," Reinhart said. "If you watch any of those playoffs, there's no question that's where the game is nowadays. I've been working on [skating] all year, especially this summer."

Becoming a stronger player provided a different challenge for Reinhart because he adopted a new weightlifting regiment to use during and after the season.

"That was probably the hardest part about going back [to juniors]," Reinhart said. "When I got sent down after my nine games, [Sabres general manager Tim Murray] was aware that if I want to be in this position this year that I am in now, I would have to take some of my game away off the ice. When I went back to junior, it's challenging. I want to be 100 percent every day when I went on the ice. But to be able to get in the gym and to be where I was at the end of the year, both on and off the ice, I think was essential for me."

Though Eichel figures to again get most of the attention at training camp in September, there's pressure on Reinhart to make the Sabres and perform at a high level. With Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and David Legwand capable of playing center, the competition may force some forwards to the wing.

"I'd be open to anything," said Reinhart, who had two goals and an assist in the Sabres' annual Blue & Gold scrimmage Friday. "I've played everywhere, including defense, in my career, so I'm comfortable at any position. I'm not saying that's going to happen. I've played wing a lot. … It's not a strange thing for a young guy to come into the League and have to play wing. I'm prepared for whatever's thrown at me, and I'm excited for the challenge."

Reinhart had a brief time playing wing at the end of last season with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. In the final three games, Reinhart had three assists splitting time between center and wing.

"I was excited for that opportunity," Reinhart said. "It allowed me to go into the offseason knowing what the pro game was like. Obviously it's a little different than the NHL level, but also a lot different than the junior level as well. It was a step up. … I was preparing for another chance, professionally. It was motivating to get that opportunity and made me confident going into the offseason as well."

Reinhart, 20 in November, has played the part of a mentor for Eichel at development camp. Each player was a No. 2 draft pick. Reinhart went through everything Eichel is going through now and they're roommates during camp. It's a convenient situation for the Sabres and their past two first-round picks.

"[I've learned] a lot of things. A lot about how things work around here," Eichel said last week about Reinhart. "He's been around a little bit. Basic things: How to handle yourself, how to carry yourself, preparation; things like that. Getting to bed at a good hour every night, taking care of yourself, what you're eating; so I've learned things like that from him that the staff here has also emphasized. But he's obviously a leader and I've really enjoyed getting to know him and learn things from him."

If Reinhart doesn't make the Sabres out of camp, he's eligible to go to the AHL instead of back to Kootenay.

"I think [the Sabres offseason moves] gave me more confidence, so maybe that could take some pressure off," Reinhart said. "But when you're on the ice, you're not thinking about any pressure. You're just doing what you can to try to prove that you can be here.

"When I say it gives you confidence, it means that the organization, you can tell, they're trying to do stuff to get this organization back on the right path. It's exciting; it's great for me to be able to be with those players as well."

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