There was a time last season when center Steven Reinprecht had resigned himself to the fact that his time in Phoenix was coming to an end.
With the Coyotes having a glut of young centermen in Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal, Matthew Lombardi and Peter Mueller, Reinprecht knew his time in the desert after 3½ seasons was running out.
“It was a great place to live, I met a lot of good people and great friends, and it was a good experience,” said Reinprecht recently while visiting BankAtlantic Center and his new home with the Panthers. “But there really wasn’t a question (about leaving Phoenix). I mean, it was at a point where I think we knew, me and my wife and even the guys on the team, it was probably time to move on.
“On paper, they were going in another direction of development, so they really wanted to bring up their young guys, throw them in the fire, and give them experience quickly. That was the direction, and I wish them all the luck.”
The Coyotes are wishing the same for Reinprecht, a fast, mobile centerman who signed with the Panthers just days before becoming an unrestricted free agent after his negotiating rights were traded in exchange for prospect Stefan Meyer.
For Reinprecht, 33, it’s an opportunity for increased playing time and a bigger role on a team that missed out on the playoffs last year on a tiebreaker. For the Panthers, it’s a chance to get a player capable of centering their second line.
“Steve is a smart, high character, hard working player who fits our club’s need for a second line center,” said assistant GM Randy Sexton. “Steve served as an assistant captain in Phoenix and played an important role with Colorado winning the 2001 Stanley Cup.”
In fact, Reinprecht has proven himself throughout his career, whether it be in the NHL or college. He ended his four-year career at the University of Wisconsin by leading the nation in Division 1 scoring in 1998-99 with 66 points in 37 games. Nominated as a Hobey Baker Finalist, Reinprecht and linemate Dany Heatley combined to score 122 points that season.
Although he went undrafted, he signed as a free agent with the Kings in 2000. In his rookie season, he was traded in March along with Rob Blake to the Avalanche, where he earned a Stanley Cup championship with 12 points (seven goals) during the playoffs.
“It was an unbelievable feeling, winning the Cup,” Reinprecht recalled. “If you’ve never won it, you want to win it. And if you’ve won it, you want to win it again. It’s a great ride and something you’ll never forget. It’s a lot of work and determination, but it’s all worth it.”
Although he missed 38 games in 2003-04 with a shoulder injury while with the Flames, Reinprecht had 29 points in 44 games. After being traded to Phoenix in 2006, Reinprecht missed time again (33 games) in 2006-07 with a fractured collarbone. But when he’s healthy, Reinprecht is capable of putting up more than 50 points.
“I feel like my health is great,” said Reinprecht, who had 41 points (14 goals) last season. “When I’m playing I feel good out there and I feel I can contribute.”
Reinprecht doesn’t come to Florida without knowing some of the history. He’s played with former Panthers Ed Jovanovski
, Steve Montador, Nick Boynton and Olli Jokinen and current Panthers Keith Ballard and Jordan Leopold.
“I talked to Keith and he had nothing but great things to say about the Panthers organization,” Reinprecht said. “There seems to be a good mix here. They have some older guys, some younger guys…good skill. With (Tomas) Vokoun in net and some balance on the blue line, it has a good makeup.
“I’m excited about playing here and having the chance to contribute.”