Sam Reinhart’s journey from Western Canada to the Florida Panthers

When the 2014 NHL Draft came around, top ranked prospect Sam Reinhart had a chance to become a Florida Panther. Despite not being drafted by Florida in 2014, he would eventually see himself wearing the Panther on his chest seven years later. 

June 27, 2014. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The day had come where the next generation of hockey stars would hear their names called at the 2014 NHL Draft.

The Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers, played host to what would eventually become one of the most important drafts in Florida Panthers history. Florida’s current active roster has six players that were chosen in the 2014 draft, yet only one of those players were selected by the Panthers. 

The Panthers held the first overall selection in 2014 after selecting third-overall in 2011 and second-overall in 2013. Those two picks were Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, who are now one and two on the Panthers all-time scoring list respectively. 

Entering the draft, Barrie Colts defensemen Aaron Ekblad was ranked as the NO.2 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. Kootenay Ice captain Sam Reinhart was ranked NO.3. Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs was ranked NO.1 (NHL Central Scouting final ranking).

After selecting two forwards in the top-three over the span of three drafts and not having the greatest defensive prospect pool, a defenseman seemed like the right choice for the Panthers in 2014. 

Florida ended up taking Ekblad with the first pick while Sam Reinhart went second overall to the Buffalo Sabres. Like Florida, Buffalo was a team who seemed to be in the midst of a rebuild.

While Reinhart didn’t end up getting drafted by Florida, he would end up finding himself in Sunrise seven years later when he was traded to the Panthers at 25-years-old. 

But before we get into Reinhart’s time as a Panther, we need to look at his career up to that point and why his arrival in Sunrise was well worth the wait.

Before the show

Sam Reinhart was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia. As a U18, he tore up the BCEHL AAA league with the Vancouver NW Giants. In his last season before major junior hockey, Reinhart had 78 points in 34 games.  Kootenay took the BC native 15th overall in the 2010 WHL Bantam draft and he immediately made an impact in his rookie season, putting up 62 points in 67 games. The following season, Reinhart had 85 points in 72 games and represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament as their captain. 

Two impressive seasons in Kootenay set up for the biggest season of Reinhart’s junior hockey career. In his NHL draft year, Reinhart scored 105 points in 60 regular season games and 23 points in 13 playoff games. He also made the Canadian World Junior team as an 18-year-old.

His extremely dominant season was enough for the Buffalo Sabres to use the second-overall pick in the 2014 Draft on him. Reinhart played nine games with Buffalo in 2014 before returning to Kootenay for his final WHL season. In 47 games he tallied 65 points as well as getting another call up to the Canadian World Junior team, where he would lead the tournament in scoring and win gold alongside his future Panthers teammate, Anthony Duclair. 

Off to the NHL 

The following season, Reinhart made the jump to the National Hockey League. He joined a Buffalo Sabres team that finished dead last in the NHL standings for two straight years.  Reinhart found himself playing alongside another highly touted North American Rookie, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, Jack Eichel. 

Buffalo now had two elite level prospects jumping into their lineup that boasted the likes of Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane and Rasmus Ristolainen. The 2015 season saw Eichel and Reinhart finish the season two and three respectively in Sabres scoring. They didn’t make the postseason, but the future of the team seemed bright, at least that’s what it looked like.

In Reinhart’s seven years in Buffalo, he put up 295 points in 454 games and scored at least 20 goals in five of his six full seasons. His teammate Jack Eichel had 355 points in 375 games. Even with these impressive numbers, the star studded duo never made the playoffs in their six seasons with the Sabres. 

Despite all the high drafts picks, Buffalo couldn’t find a way out of their rebuild. After drafting second in 2014 and 2015, they drafted first in 2018 and 2021. Within eight years, Buffalo selected in the top-two four times and held a draft pick within the top eight every year since 2013. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season; the longest active NHL playoff drought.

The End in Buffalo

It was clear that if the team Buffalo had on the ice couldn’t win now they wouldn’t win in the future. Following the 2020-2021 season, the Sabres blew it up. They shipped off their 2013 first round defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, to the Philadelphia Flyers, Sam Reinhart was traded to the Florida Panthers and their captain, Jack Eichel, was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights during the 2021-2022 season. 

From Buffalo to Sunrise

Bill Zito has made a lot of big moves during his two season tenure as the GM of the Florida Panthers. He traded for Sam Bennett, drafted Anton Lundell, signed the likes of Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe. He completely retooled the depth of the Panthers’ roster. Yet the move that made the biggest splash around the league happened on July 24, 2021 when he moved a first-round pick and goaltending prospect Devon Levi to the Buffalo Sabres for Sam Reinhart. 

Zito now assembled three of the top four picks from the 2014 NHL draft on the same roster; Ekblad (first-overall), Reinhart (second-overall) and Bennett (fourth-overall). 

Reinhart went from never playing in an NHL playoff game in his career to joining a team that just came off of an extremely exciting first-round matchup against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in the previous season. During his first press conference as Panther, Reinhart showed his excitement about joining this Florida team. 

“I love the way this group has progressed in the last couple years, and especially this year,” said Reinhart. “[I’m] really looking forward to adding to the group, and doing everything we can to make it to the next level.”

A perfect fit

Coming into the season, Florida had one of the most deadly looking offenses on paper. The acquisition of Reinhart was adding fuel to the fire for this high scoring forward unit. The previous season Florida finished fourth in goals for, and now they added a consistent 20 plus goal scorer to the lineup.

The Panthers have already played over 50 games in the 2021-2022 NHL season. Florida leads the league in goals for and goals per game. Reinhart currently sits tied for second in team scoring with Aleksander Barkov. 

In 52 games, the 26-year-old Reinhart is at a point-per-game in his first season with the Panthers. He has spent the majority of the season playing on the third-line with rookie center Anton Lundell down the middle. Reinhart plays a big role for the Panthers’ special teams as well, as he’s second on the team in power play goals with six. 

With 27 games remaining in the regular season, Florida sits atop the Atlantic Division and is well on their way to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1997. After seven years in the league, Reinhart seems to finally be on his way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When he was traded to Florida, Reinhart signed for three-years in Sunrise and after being with the organization for seven months, he seems to be loving his time as a Panther. 

“It was a great opportunity to come in here,” Reinhart stated in a post-game press conference when asked about the reasons he was happy to join the team over the summer. “It’s a fun team to be a part of.” 

Even though Sam Reinhart wasn’t drafted as a Florida Panther, everything would eventually fall in place for him to become a part of what the Panthers are building today and for the future. 

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