By: Chris Boyle
Rebuilding through the draft is the best way to reinvigorate a franchise. If done properly, you not only give your team a talent infusion, but you populate your roster with high-ceiling/cost-controlled assets which can allow you to also build effectively through free agency.
The Sabres have shone a spotlight through this intelligent team-building philosophy by landing Jack Eichel through the draft and Kyle Okposo through free agency. While these two players have been focal points of their rebuild, Sam Reinhart has been quietly establishing himself as a dynamic offensive player.
The 21-year-old is capable of carrying the Sabres’ offense while he is on the ice through his dynamic vision. It has allowed him to become a dominant center with his ability to distribute the puck and find soft spots in the defense to exploit for high-quality shots.
These are the hallmarks of dominant offensive players and Reinhart is already exhibiting these advanced abilities in only his sophomore season. When Reinhart is on the ice, the Sabres are a very good offensive team.
A quick look at the Sabres’ offensive distribution when Reinhart is on the ice at even strength paints a picture of a team that moves the puck at an above-average level.
The Sabres are consistently forcing goaltenders into complex scenarios by moving the puck and not allowing them to square their shoulders up and line up the release point. Eighty-four percent of the shots are the result of pre-shot movement, and they continually produce slot-line passes and second-chance opportunities. Location data is also consistent with an above average performance.
Where Reinhart’s contribution becomes clear is when we strip out the shots that he doesn’t create and focus on shots he either took himself or shots he had a direct hand in creating for his teammates. These type of opportunities were created by Reinhart making slot-line passes or shots that he released that were tipped by a teammate or the resulting rebound created from his shot.
When we isolate these shots, it allows us to separate Reinhart from his teammates and shows how influential he is. This is an elite-level performance from the second overall pick from the 2014 NHL Draft.
Of the 24 slot-line passes, Reinhart is directly involved in 10 of them. He is also responsible for almost 40 percent of all rebound shots and 50 percent of all the tipped shots while he is on the ice. Location data is even more extreme as Reinhart produces almost 50 percent of his shot opportunities in the High Danger area of the ice, almost double the average performance of 23 percent. High-quality opportunities that are produced closer to the net are examples of an elite offensive performer and the polar opposite of what his teammates produce when he is not involved with the evolution of a shot on goal.
Location data is even more extreme as Reinhart produces almost 50 percent of his shot opportunities in the High Danger area of the ice, almost double the average performance of 23 percent. High-quality opportunities that are produced closer to the net are examples of an elite offensive performer and the polar opposite of what his teammates produce when he is not involved with the evolution of a shot on goal.
The Sabres often shoot from inferior positions on the ice. This provides straight lines for the opposition goaltender and the ability to read and recognize the play from a distance, and is exactly how teams can insulate a goaltender. Only 19 percent of their shots occur within the High Danger zone and almost 60 percent occur in the Low Danger area outside of the home plate area and high slot. Significantly inferior to the average distribution of 54 percent.
This type of individual offensive impact so early in a career is very advanced and has been accomplished with a rotating cast of support players. These type of skills are indispensable on an elite power-play and this accelerated growth is something that bodes well for the Sabres’ future playoff aspirations.
Reinhart still trails Eichel in regards to hype, but that might not be in the case in the future. As the Sabres rebuild fully takes hold, his teammates around him will improve and this should vault him to an All-Star level.