ST. CATHARINES, ONT. -- It’s always an interesting exercise to watch how a young athlete reacts to adversity early in their career. Will they use it as motivation to make themselves better, or find the nearest corner to go pout in?
Sam Reinhart chose the former.
The second overall pick in last June’s NHL Draft, Reinhart started the season in Buffalo, but collected just one assist in limited ice time during nine games of action. The 19-year-old center was returned to the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay ICE on October 31, and he’s been on an absolute tear ever since.
Reinhart has 27 points (8+19) in 15 games since returning to Kootenay, and scored in 14 straight games to start his junior season. The British Columbia-native already has nine multi-point games, and now occupies third spot in team scoring despite playing in 15 fewer games than Jaedon Descheneau and his team-leading 39 points.
Before returning to Kootenay, Reinhart said the message he got from Sabres GM Tim Murray was a simple one.
“It’s pretty similar to every young guy. Obviously he knew what I could do at the junior level already,” Reinhart said following Monday’s practice for Team Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp at the Meridian Centre. “I think the biggest thing wasn’t about scoring and putting up numbers as much as it was about playing the same way, like I’m going to have to at the professional level.
“It’s helped me out both (at National Team Camp), and back in junior. I’ve been playing a better game, a quicker game, and competing more.”
Returning to junior also allowed Reinhart another shot at winning gold for Canada at the World Junior Championship, following last year’s disappointing fourth-place finish in Sweden.
Reinhart is one of six returning players still in camp, and is expected to be a big part of the leadership group for a Canadian team that will be under a tremendous amount of pressure to win gold in front of home crowds in Montreal and Toronto when the tournament gets underway on December 26.
It’s only five days into camp, but Reinhart appears to be locked into a top-line role between explosive wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. The trio has been together since camp opened in Toronto last Thursday, and they showed offensive chemistry during a physical, 90-minute practice on Monday.
In the back of his mind, Reinhart has known that World Junior redemption was always a possibility.
“It’s been on my mind for quite some time. I’m looking forward to getting this opportunity now, and we’re still working towards that.”
Canada’s medal hopes got a shot in the arm on Monday when 17-year-old phenom Connor McDavid took part in his first full-contact practice since breaking his right hand in a fight on November 11.
While the initial prognosis of five-to-six weeks seemed optimistic, the Erie Otters’ forward put a nation’s mind at ease with his full participation on Monday.
“I felt pretty good. It’s kind of been the plan for a while now,” McDavid explained. “My last check-up was a couple of Tuesday’s ago. It’s been the plan since Day One to start contact on this date, so I’m just kind of following the plan.”
McDavid reported no issues with his hand following practice, after centering a line with Nic Petan and childhood-friend Robby Fabbri, a 2014 first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues.
Before the injury, McDavid was the OHL’s runaway scoring leading with 16 goals and 35 assists in just 18 games. He’s since dropped to fifth spot, but sits just 10 points behind Mitchell Marner of the London Knights.