Things have gone downhill for Griffin Reinhart since he hoisted the Memorial Cup in 2014.
A new season looms, and in fact has already begun for players competing in the World Cup.
Aging veterans will face a growing challenge to maintain their level of play and remain in the NHL. Prospects will get a chance to prove themselves worthy of playing time in the best hockey league on the planet.
Some young hopefuls have more to prove than others do. For whatever reasons, their play and their statistics have not yet justified how high they were drafted – and they are in danger of being passed by fellow prospects in their organization’s pecking order.
This is an especially crucial season for the following youngsters:
LW Anthony Mantha, Detroit
The hulking sniper has been marinating in the AHL since he followed a 50-goal QMJHL campaign in 2012-13 with a monster 57-goal, 120-point junior encore in just 57 games. Detroit’s 20th overall pick in 2013 followed a 33-point pro debut with the Grand Rapids Griffins with 21 goals and 45 points in 60 AHL games.
Learning that producing in the high-scoring QMJHL is way easier than doing it against men, the swift-skating marksman led the Griffins in playoff scoring after a 10-game, three-point trial with Detroit last season. It will take him time to realize his full potential in the NHL and live up to the Olympian-level expectations from junior, but the Red Wings are desperate for scoring and Mantha should start making his mark this season.
Forecast: 65GP 16G 16A
LW Jimmy Vesey, NYR
He hasn’t done anything wrong other than raising expectations to stratospheric heights by spurning the Nashville Predators, then Buffalo Sabres before sparking a highly publicized courtship by approximately one-third of all NHL teams.
For his own reasons, which apparently don’t include wanting to play for a Stanley Cup champion in the foreseeable future, the Harvard superstar chose to begin his pro career in the Big Apple with a two-year entry-level contract. After all the hype, which dragged on for months, fans of the Blueshirts might expect an immediate superstar.
That is unlikely, although at 23 the 6-1, 194-pounder should be a more mature specimen than an 18-year-old drafted straight out of junior.
In his senior season at Harvard, Vesey accumulated 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games (1.39 PPG) as his team’s primary offensive focus with all the PP time he could handle. Even assuming he makes the Rangers’ roster out of training camp, that won’t be the case in the NHL, at least not to start.
Due to his high skill level and coach Alain Vigneault’s fondness for such, Vesey has a legit shot of initially being third on the depth chart on the left side behind Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, although both underachievers are vulnerable, but Vesey will have earn primo man-advantage opportunities.
Forecast: 75GP 17G 19A
D Haydn Fleury, Carolina
Although he’s still just 20, the Hurricanes’ 2014 seventh-overall draft pick will be scrutinized closely in his first pro season after playing out the string with four seasons in Red Deer of the WHL.
Haydn Fleury was drafted into the NHL amid fanfare.
Now a strapping 6-3 and 220 pounds, Fleury was kept in junior after regressing badly with a 28-point third season with the Rebels. Forty-one points last season restored some organizational confidence that he will eventually justify where he was drafted.
Fleury, who combines physical play with offensive upside, will need to keep progressing because Carolina GM Ron Francis has stockpiled good blueline prospects Trevor Carrick, Roland McKeown and Jake Bean to hopefully join talented young defenders Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jacob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Ryan Murphy. Fleury doesn’t want to get lost in the shuffle.
D Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton
One of the hockey-playing sons of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart (the others are Sam and Max), Griffin is the poster child for the players in this column.
Blessed with a 6-4 frame that has filled out into 216 pounds, the 22-year-old former Memorial Cup champion with the Edmonton Oil Kings has gotten into 37 NHL games – and produced a grand total of two assists.
The New York Islanders, who were so seduced by his frame, all-around skill and genes that they drafted him fourth overall in 2012, didn’t like what they saw in an eight-game, one-assist callup in the 2014-15 season. The Isles were also unimpressed with Reinhart’s minus-13 with AHL Bakersfield that same season.
So they sent him back to Edmonton in a draft-day trade with the Oilers last year for the 16th and 33rd picks in the 2015 draft, which they turned into Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. The Islanders should be happy moving on with those two players while the Oilers try to motivate Reinhart to be less passive.
One assist and minus-6 in 29 NHL games is not exactly what the Oilers thought they were getting, which is why young Reinhart played one more game in the AHL last season than he did with the parent club.
He’s still just 22 at a position where players traditionally need time to learn to play at the highest level. Young players are arriving NHL-ready in unprecedented numbers, though, a result of better coaching and of salary-cap necessity.
Oiler fans are in an ugly mood having had their hopes raised by high draft picks and dashed by AHL-level play. Spearheaded by Connor McDavid, better times are coming and Reinhart must get his act together if he wants to be part of them, especially since other blueliners are establishing themselves ahead of him.
Forecast: 24GP 3G 6A
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