SUNRISE, FL - Griffin Reinhart might feel like the biggest winner of the 2015 NHL Draft, right up there with the Oilers who drafted potential superstar Connor McDavid first overall.
The 21-year-old defenceman described his mood as “ecstatic” following a trade executed by the Oilers that wrested him from the New York Islanders. Edmonton sent their 16th and 33rd overall picks to the Islanders in exchange for the 6-foot-4, 217-pound blueliner.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” Reinhart said on 630 CHED Friday evening. “I was sitting pretty quietly and then heard the news. Obviously, a lot of excitement rushed to my head. It wasn’t something I was asking for but it was a pleasant surprise though.”
Reinhart, taken fourth overall in 2012, is happy because he heads to a place he’s very familiar with. Reinhart played junior hockey in Edmonton for the Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, who are owned by the Oilers. He finished his Oil Kings career recording 111 points (30-81-111) in 209 games, adding 164 penalty minutes and a +83 rating.
Reinhart captained the Oil Kings to the 2014 Memorial Cup Championship, also leading them to a victory over the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL Final. Reinhart turned pro this season, playing 59 games in the American Hockey League for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He also played eight NHL games in New York.
“I know what he brings,” said Oilers Director of Player Personnel and former Oil Kings General Manager Bob Green. “I know what he brought in junior. He played one year pro, he’s got developing to do but Griffin is a winner. He’s got elite hockey sense, he’s 6-foot-4, he’s a defenceman and we need defencemen. He won a Memorial Cup Championship, he was the captain. He would have taken us there, I believe, when he was 18 but he got injured in the Conference Final that year. We took Portland to six games and maybe we could have won that series if we had him in the lineup. Did he struggle this year in the American League? I guess he did. But I believe in Griffin as a player and I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Dating back to 2012 there has always been interest in Reinhart for the Oilers. He’s stayed on their radar so there was a lot of information to be shared at the Oilers draft table when the calls were being made.
“We had a lot of people in our organization, including Bob, that we’ve spoken (with about) Griffin over the last two months and two days, the length of my tenure. To get players that you know, that’s important,” said Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli.
Photo by Getty Images.
Reinhart is a young defenceman still developing, but the talent and measurables are there.
“He just has an all-around game,” said Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe. “He’s got size, which is important in today’s game. He’s got an elite head, in terms of thinking the game. He’s got a great stick. He’s got some offence. He can be a shutdown guy or he can play on your power play. He can do it all in junior and no doubt in my mind he’ll be able to do the same thing in the NHL. It’s going to take a while, like it does with young defencemen but he’s already had a year pro. He should be able to step in and help us next year.”
“He’s a horse,” added Green. “He can play all night, he’s 6-foot-4, he can move the puck, he’s got elite hockey sense, he’s got great hands. I mean, he’s the complete package of what you want in a defenceman and he’s 21-years-old.”
Chiarelli agrees, saying Reinhart has the tools to be a good NHL defenceman. The Oilers have made no secret of their intentions to lock down defencemen who can come in and contribute. They were in on Boston Bruins d-man Dougie Hamilton, who was traded to the Calgary Flames for three 2015 picks. That trade didn’t work out for the Oilers, but the Reinhart one made sense to the organization, despite having good players left on the board at 16.
“We’ve been hunting for defencemen and there’s a lot of intelligence on Griffin internally,” said Chiarelli. “I’ve always liked him as a player. He’s been behind a lot of good defencemen in Long Island. I’d had discussions with Garth, on and off over the last month or so. We just kind of ramped up those discussions. I saw him in pro a couple times last year. I saw him in London at the Memorial Cup and he was just a horse. Happy to get him. We had some guys at 16 we liked but this was something we decided to act on. He’s ready to play and he’s going to be a very good part of our D.”
Both Chiarelli and Green disclosed that they deem Reinhart ready to play in the NHL this season. They expect him to make the team out of camp.
“I would hope so, yeah,” said Chiarelli. “He’s a young defenceman. He’s still finding his way but he’s big, he’s strong, he’s very smart, can play a lot of minutes. And you know what? He’s a young D that we’re happy to have in our mix, that can grow with us and help us right away.”
Reinhart got buried on the Islanders depth chart due to an influx of talent, with the trades for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy.
“Coming in, I thought I had a decent chance at making the team but they got a lot of good defencemen on that team, they made some good trades and have a good core and they have a lot of good prospects as well,” said Reinhart. “It’s not surprising that they moved one of the prospects coming up, but fortunately for me I get to go to a place I’m familiar with. I’m pretty happy.”
For Reinhart, it’s a fresh start in a place where he’s experienced success.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised but I wouldn’t say it was expected,” said Reinhart. “I’m definitely happy that it happened. A lot of familiar faces there and familiar city for me, also a fresh start some I’m very happy this move happened. It’s nice to have Bob Green back on my side. He’s done very well with every team he’s been a part of and he knows how to make a winning organization.”
If Reinhart is to become a key piece to the Oilers blueline he’ll need to develop more. It’s something he’s focused on this summer.
“Every single part of my game I think I’m going to try to work on,” Reinhart said. “I’m doing every single thing I can this summer to try and make it as soon as next year. Started some power skating this year so hopefully that can help out. I think I’m a pretty deceptive skater though and appear to be moving slower than I am. My dad (former Flames defenceman Paul Reinhart) was kind of that same kind of player. He played pretty deceptive. I’m going to do everything I can and work hard in the off-season to try to make impressions heading into camp.”
So it’s back to Edmonton for the former Oil King, who looks to have a successful reign in his old-new town.