BUFFALO – In less than a week, top Sabres prospect Sam Reinhart went from centering some high-scoring wingers to playing fourth-line minutes between grinders.
So it wasn’t shocking the Sabres scratched the struggling 18-year-old for Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins inside the First Niagara Center.
Reinhart has zero goals, two shots and a minus-1 rating in his first five NHL games.
“Why do you sit out anybody?” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “It’s one of those things. He’s a young player and still learning. So we’ll let him watch a game and see how he comes from that.”
Nolan believes Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in June, can learn from watching.
“They all go through it,” he said about youngsters. “They got to watch. Sometimes you learn a lot more by watching than playing sometimes. It’s still early in his development. We tried to force-feed it right at the beginning, a lot of minutes, top lines. We backed off a little bit. But now this is another way to try to get his game going.”
Reinhart averaged 12 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time in his first three appearances. He played one game with Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta and two with Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart.
In his last two outings, Reinhart averaged six minutes, 54 seconds with Nick Deslauriers and Cody McCormick, two grinders.
“He’s just got to get a little bit stronger, his reaction times,” Nolan said about Reinhart. “He knows all of the stuff he has to do, just doing it at this level, his reaction has to be a little bit better.”
Reinhart can play four more games before his trial ends and his contract kicks in. At this point, it appears the Sabres will return him to the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice.
“I know it’s a possibility,” Reinhart said. “If that happens, I’m going to go and develop one more year and take that as a positive.”
What must Reinhart work on to stick in the NHL?
“I think the biggest thing is the pace and the intensity,” he said. “I think I do have that, I’ve shown that at times, and I think the biggest thing for me is learning how to use it.”
Improving his faceoff percentage would greatly help Reinhart, a team-worst 26.5 percent in the dot.
“You have to change it up a little bit, you can’t stay too predictable,” Reinhart said about taking draws.
Reinhart lost all 11 faceoffs he took Monday. His percentage actually went up after winning three of five on Friday.
“My performance, my line’s performance, goes up (when I win),” he said. “So that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned is how important (it is) for the overall success. I try to work on them every day, every win you get more confident with it.”
Brian Flynn, a healthy scratch four times already this season, replaced Reinhart.
“It’s not fun,” said Flynn, who played 79 games last season. “It’s tough showing to the rink when you know you’re not playing. But you learn some things when you’re up in the stands. Things happen a lot slower up there so you see things that you don’t see that ice level. So I think I learned a little bit positioning. You see how important communication is.”
Nolan said he almost scratched 19-year-old Rasmus Ristolainen last week because the defenseman was experiencing a different type of fatigue.
“Young players, sometimes they get fatigued … not so much because of the playing, but because there’s so much lights and action, cameras,” Nolan explained. “The NHL lights, sometimes you get a little bit overwhelmed, and one game he showed little signs of it. All of a sudden, next game he comes right back.
“That was the reason we were thinking about doing it, but he came out with flying colors, and (Friday) night he was even better. Hopefully, he’s only got stage fright and he’s ready to go full time all the time.”
The Sabres also scratched defensemen Tyson Strachan and Nikita Zadorov.