Building off a breakthrough: Sam Reinhart

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

At first glance, Sam Reinhart‘s season looks only to be a modest increase from his three previous seasons in the NHL.

His 25 goals was a career-high, surpassing the 23 he scored just his rookie season, and his 50 points were three more than his sophomore campaign.

Not much of a breakthrough, right?

It’s not until you see when Reinhart did most of his damage that you get the sense that, perhaps, he broke out in a big way.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Reinhart struggled to find points in the first half of the season. Up until the clock struck midnight to flip the calendar from 2017 to 2018, Reinhart had posted just 11 points in 38 games.

Given that he had 50 points and there were 44 games left in the season, some quick math shows just how good Reinhart’s second half was. The 22-year-old rattled off 39 in the remaining 44 games of the season playing mostly on the wing with the now-departed Ryan O'Reilly.

What remains to be seen from Reinhart is what he can do if Phil Housley moves him back to center with O’Reilly gone. Jack Eichel occupies the first-line center role and it’s expected that Casey Mittelstadt will figure into that spot on the second line. Patrik Berglund, who came over the O’Reilly deal, can play center on the third line, thus keeping Reinhart in the top-six and potential on the right-wing next to Eichel and opposite of Jeff Skinner.

That’s a juicy proposition for the top line, and Reinhart showed the ability this season to better those around him.

The Athletic’s John Vogl wrote about this subject in June:

Reinhart’s passing skills and hockey IQ make him an intriguing center candidate. Though not the fleetest of foot, he can drive the offense. According to the numbers at NaturalStatTrick.com, Reinhart trailed only Evander Kane and Jason Pominville in shots generated relative to his teammates and ranked fifth in fewest shots allowed. O’Reilly was noticeably better with Reinhart than without him.

And Vogl goes on to point out that experiments at center haven’t necessarily worked out over Reinhart’s first three seasons. 

Reinhart is a solid net-front presence and sitting him in front of goal on the power play can result in good things, an example which you can see below.

Reinhart has still yet to sign a new deal, but that will come with time.

What will be interesting to watch is how his form from the second half of last season translates into the start of the upcoming campaign.

Reinhart showed he can flirt with a point-per-game pace, and if the Sabres and get that, then it means good things for Eichel, Skinner or Mittelstadt, depending on how Housley sorts out his lines, and of course, the Sabres as a whole.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck