Edmonton, AB - When you grow up surrounded by sticks, pucks, skates and an anything-is-possible, winning attitude, you have little choice but to follow suit and lace ‘em up.
Such is the case for 18-year-old Griffin Reinhart, a rock-solid defenceman with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings and son of former NHLer Paul Reinhart, who played 11 seasons between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
Paul isn't the only one providing inspiration in this bustling, hockey-mad family. The Oil Kings product is the middle child to his brothers, Sam and Max -- they're both forwards with the Kootenay Ice, while the latter has already been selected, 64th overall by the Flames in 2010.
'Cat' is well on his way, too, utilizing the advantage of his dad's priceless knowledge in building a prosperous career.
"He's been huge," he said. "He coached us in minor hockey and he'd switch with each person every couple years. He's been a big help and even to this day, he'll call us after games or the next day; just gives us some advice on what we need to do better or what we did well. He's always there for us and he's going to continue to do that, which is a big help and an advantage for us."
Sam, the youngest of the three (16) will be draft-eligible in 2014, but Griffin's time is now, looking to one-up his older brother and continue the sibling rivalry (or is it brotherly love?) that has been such a valued component in the brothers' hockey-driven upbringing.
"It's not just about Edmonton vs. Kootenay," Griffin laughed. "Even back at home, our next door neighbours have three boys as well, and they're all the same age as us. It happens to be me and two of their brothers against my two brothers and one of them in road hockey. It's happened in the past and still happens now."
Out there, rankings, plus-minus, and goals and assists simply don't matter. It's that humble beginning that's so often reflected in the 6'4", 202-pound blueliner's game. He's already built like a pro, but there's room to grow, both physically and in regards to his lethal two-way arsenal.
"My skating has to keep improving," he said, noting that area's utmost importance in order to reach the next level. "There's also an edge to my game that I want to keep developing. I think that will come with age and as I get a bit heavier."
Reinhart patrols the ice with authority. While his overwhelming presence does the bulk of the intimidation, his all-encompassing skill-set is what has scouts salivating. The West Vancouver, BC, native is currently ranked eighth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
His long, smooth stride allows him to cover the sheet with ease, while a decisive, tape-to-tape breakout pass does the rest when time and space is limited. Reinhart is certainly not the high-risk, high-reward type that's seen in Mathew Dumba (Red Deer Rebels, ranked seventh among North American skaters), but his pro-like reads enforce a simple and defensively-minded game.
He's calm and doesn't panic when under pressure. When the opponent charges up with speed, he's calculated in stepping up, disrupting the attack and dishing a crushing hit on his counterparts. If it isn't required, a simple stick-check will do. Either way, it halts the opponent and promotes his team's quick-strike transition game.
It's a model Reinhart has picked up on over time, citing the style of Shea Weber and Chris Pronger as motivation.
"If I can combine that style that they play with my own, I'll be successful," he explained. "In the end, I try to play my own game. If I get a chance to watch them, I'll look and try to pick up on what they're doing, but I don't get too caught up in it."
He's a chip off the old block, all right. In addition to establishing those big-league attributes, Griffin has the ability to involve himself offensively as well, both at even strength and when he quarterbacks the Oil Kings' second power-play unit. In 51 games this season, he's potted 12 goals and 32 points, highlighted by an unsurprisingly high +16 rating.
At the same age, Paul collected 45 points in 47 games with the OHA's Kitchener Rangers. The very next year, he produced an incredible 129 points (including 51 goals) in 66 games. Griffin will be in tough to match it, so he's keeping his head on an even keel.
"I'd say my biggest goal is to be consistent this year and play my best," he said. "Part of establishing consistency is making sure I come to the rink every day, realizing that it's a new day. If I have a bad game or bad day, the next day is a new one and I can start fresh from there."
Fortunately, bad games and bad days have been intermittent at most. The Oil Kings have decimated their WHL opponents this season, sitting atop the league's Eastern Conference standings with a 43-15-7 record, poising themselves for what could be a lengthy post-season run.
"I think we've got a really cool opportunity coming up," Reinhart said. "We're really well coached and that's had a big part to do with our success this year. (Head Coach Derek Laxdal) has been huge. He's been at this level; he's produced in the WHL and he made it to the NHL, so he knows what it takes. He's done real well with our team and he's a smart guy, he knows what he's talking about, so the guys really respect him in knowing that he knows what it takes to win.
"The guys in the room are buying into the system. We've been improving each game and, each day, we continue to get better and better. That's going to lead to a successful post-season."
Skill will take them there, but leadership and veteran savvy ought to help mend the gap between the club's wide-eyed youngsters and experienced leaders. Although he's sported an ‘A' on his sweater all season long, Reinhart will be one of them. When Mark Pysyk and Martin Gernat participated in the 2012 World Junior Championship, a void was left on the team's talented blueline.
"It was a huge opportunity for me and some of the other guys to step up," he said. "It all happened during a big winning streak, too, so everyone wanted to keep it up and go for another record. In doing that, I feel as though I picked up my game when everybody started leaving. Then, when they came back, we were stronger than ever."
That's when scouts and the hockey world truly started to take notice. Now, Reinhart has an even greater opportunity to take his team beneath his wing once more, lead them through the tumultuous post-season grind and tee up his path to Pittsburgh in the most passionate way possible.
While Paul was destined to challenge the Oilers as the orange and blue's bitter rivals, Griffin has another idea in mind. As Edmonton desperately searches for a No. 1 rearguard to complement the team's exceptional skill up top, the young blueliner hopes his named will be called by the group in the locker room just down the hall at Rexall Place.
"That would be a really cool opportunity for me," he said, smiling. "I actually played on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' team in minor hockey (Vancouver NW Giants) for a little bit. I know him, and seeing all the guys around the rink that I look up to, it would be a really surreal moment for me to be drafted by the Oilers."
And, perhaps, it would be most appropriate to follow in his dad's footsteps as an Alberta-bound NHL defenceman, and to continue the sibling rivalry that once began (and still happens) on the roads in West Vancouver as full-grown adults against the world's best.