BUFFALO – When general manager Tim Murray told Sam Reinhart, his top prospect, the Sabres would be sending him back to junior, the 18-year-old handled the difficult news well.
But a few minutes later, the disappointment of leaving the First Niagara Center to begin his long trip back to the Kootenay Ice overwhelmed Reinhart.
“He was emotional,” Murray said this morning. “I guess he was emotional walking out of the rink.”
Murray understands Reinhart’s reaction. The No. 2 pick in June spent more than two months in Buffalo. He played nine games this season.
“Now, all of a sudden, I tell him he’s not part of the team,” Murray said.
Murray said today’s an “emotional day.”
“I told him, ‘You’re my first first-round draft pick as a GM,’” he said. “Obviously, I was cheering for him. But I can’t let emotion come into play on the decision.”
Murray added: “He should be disappointed. I told him that, ‘Be disappointed. You’re allowed to be disappointed.’”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Reinhart just isn’t strong enough to play in the NHL yet.
“I told him he’s just not heavy enough,” Murray said. “He’s not strong enough yet.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan believes Reinhart possesses the intelligence and skill to play in the NHL.
“Banging off the puck, I don’t think in the long run it’ll be good for your confidence,” he said. “So I think this will be good.”
Reinhart had one assist. A 10th appearance would have activated the center’s contract. He had been skating limited minutes on the fourth line. The Sabres never thought about letting him learn in the NHL.
“For an 18-year-old player, I don’t see the value of the argument he can sit on the bench here and work out versus going back to junior, no matter what he’s accomplished in junior,” Murray said. “Great players have gone back to junior, 99 percent of the players that have played here have gone back to junior. He’s still going to get something out of it.”
Of course, having dominated the Western Hockey League for two seasons, Reinhart has also outgrown junior.
“He’s not going to learn a whole lot there on the ice, I don’t think,” Murray said. “I know he can go back there and be a 120-point guy in a full season, playing three-quarters speed. But that’s not what we want him to do. We want him to go back there and get stronger. …
“He’s going to have to find a way two or three times a week to slip out on his own and get to the gym and get stronger.”