BUFFALO – Up and down they went side-by-side, each stride drawing eyes inside the First Niagara Center. For a few moments during development camp Monday, Sam Reinhart and Brendan Lemieux, the jewels of the Sabres’ 2014 draft class, skated together, a brief-but-memorable glimpse into the future.
If the Sabres become contenders again someday, this week’s camp could be remembered as one of the building blocks.
Seven first-round picks are participating, including Reinhart, the slick center the Sabres selected second overall last month. Seven second-rounders are here, including Lemieux, the agitating winger they grabbed 31st overall.
“It’s a process, and the organization seems to be doing the right things to get better as a group,” Reinhart said about camp following his first public practice here. “It really starts not just on the NHL roster, but in these camps as well, developing and getting better each day.”
Reinhart’s the camp’s marquee name, a potential superstar and franchise cornerstone. Several hundred fans watched the 18-year-old and 38 other youngsters Monday.
“Everybody knows how good he is,” Lemieux said about Reinhart. “I think what separates him from everybody else is how smart he is. I think that’s his strongest asset. He’s a really smart kid. Obviously, it’s exciting for me to be out there with guys like that. That’s the kind of caliber that I want to be with. I want to surround myself with the best players in the world.”
Naturally, Reinhart also wants to play with the best players in world. He believes he can crack the NHL immediately next season.
“In my mind, I’m thinking if I come and play the way I’m capable of playing, I feel confident I can earn a spot and make an impact next year,” Reinhart said.
Of course, Reinhart knows he must improve before training camp. This week offers an opportunity to showcase his talents and develop in a deep prospect pool. Reinhart and Lemieux should be teammates during tonight’s scrimmage.
“I think as a young guy coming into the league you have to get bigger and stronger and adapt to the pace,” Reinhart said. “Out here, this is a different level than junior. The National League will be even a different level. It gives you a sense of comfort and confidence going into training camp.”
Reinhart’s quiet confidence impressed Sabres prospect J.T. Compher, a University of Michigan winger they picked 35th overall in 2013.
“I was excited when we made that pick,” said Compher, who once faced Reinhart in a tournament with Team USA. “I think he’s going to be a great guy for this organization. (He’s) a very hardworking, humble kid. That’s exactly what I’ve seen this week from him. He’s a very humble, quiet guy but very confident on the ice.”
The three-year, entry-level contract Reinhart signed Saturday offers him more comfort.
“At the end of the day, it’s one step closer to my ultimate goal, and my goal is to be here next year and to make an impact,” he said. “So it makes me feel more comfortable and gives me some confidence out there. It doesn’t change anything at the end of the day. If I’m going to continue to work and prepare for what comes ahead, I know I’ll be fine.”