The Edmonton Oilers made a controversial move on Friday, trading the No. 16 and No. 33 picks in the 2015 Draft to the New York Islanders in exchange for yet another former Oil King, defenceman Griffin Reinhart.
There are a lot of reasons to dislike the trade, and we’ll get to those, but it’s important to acknowledge that the 21-year-old Reinhart isn’t exactly dead on arrival and could yet have a solid NHL career.
A year ago, I wrote a pessimistic piece on Reinhart’s potential. The reason for the piece was the asinine notion that the Oilers should move their No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft (they picked Leon Draisaitl) to New York for the rights to Reinhart. At the time, I pointed out that Reinhart’s career curve was a lot less impressive than most top-10 defenceman and that while our information was incomplete his declining offensive production was extremely worrisome:
[H]ockey can’t be neatly divided into offence and defence. Shutdown players don’t leave the ice when their team gets possession of the puck. So a lack of offence at the junior level either means a lack of ability (i.e. they can’t shoot and can’t pass) or it means they’re spending their entire time in the defensive zone. That’s why players who turn into shutdown types in the NHL generally score in junior; they may primarily be playing a defensive game, but a successful defensive game generally also equates to points. So it’s a little troubling that Reinhart is getting lapped offensively by a guy like Teubert at the same age.
Reinhart has played a season of professional hockey since that post was written, albeit a season spent in the AHL. With the idea of getting an idea of his potential as a player, I decided to look at all the defencemen taken in the first 15 picks out of major junior since 2000 to spend the majority of their Draft+3 season in the minors. Here’s the list, with the number indicating points/82 games played (black text indicates junior, red AHL):
Not every player on this list turned out badly.
Braydon Coburn has enjoyed a solid NHL career, and in a lot of ways is comparable to Reinhart. Karl Alzner is a good second-pair defenceman with Washington. Others have played NHL games: Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey ranked No. 5 and No. 6 in ice-time for the Isles last year, Steve Eminger played almost 500 games, other guys are still prospects.
It’s also nice to see Reinhart’s offensive production in the AHL; it’s higher than we would have expected based on his last two years of junior and puts him in the range of Alzner and Coburn, the best two players on this list.
With that said, there’s a lot of disappointment here. Colten Teubert and Alex Plante both show up; those players need no introduction to Oilers fans. Many of the worst first-round picks in recent memory pop up on this list; generally big, plodding defencemen who were supposed to be shutdown guys and turned out to be far less than that.
People with Knowledge
Bob Green, former G.M. of the Edmonton Oil Kings and current Edmonton Oilers Director of Player Personnel, offered the following rationale for the move:
I didn’t see him play in the American League. I know what he brings, what he brought in junior. He’s played one year of pro, he’s got some developing to do, but Griffin’s a winner. He’s got elite hockey sense, he’s 6’4”, he’s a defencemen; we need defencemen. He won a Memorial Cup, he was the captain. He would have taken us there I believe when he was 18 but he got injured in the Conference Final that year and we took Portland to six games and maybe we could have won that series had we had him in the lineup. Did he struggle this year in the American League? I guess he did, but I believe in Griffin as a player and I think he’s going to be just fine… He’s a horse. He can play all night. He’s 6’4”, he can move the puck, he’s got elite hockey sense, he’s got great hands. He’s the complete package that you want in a defenceman who is 20 years old.
Michael Fornabaio, who covers the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, had the following take:
Got to admit I wasn’t as down on Reinhart as some others. He wasn’t ready, sure, but big, young defensemen rarely are. His skating will need some work. But he’ll forever be that “No. 4 pick” guy, and that was going to be hard to live up to. On the other hand, that’s not a bad return for a defenseman who didn’t look can’t-miss. And in general, the Islanders dealt from strength, a deeper pool of defense prospects to add to a thinner group of forward prospects.
From February, here’s what the Islanders blog Lighthouse Hockey had to say about the player:
Griffin Reinhart – perhaps the biggest question, he played solid, but made the occasionally headscratching pass. That has long been my impression, that Griffin will be a solid player, but is there more upside? I see Dave Langevin being the max sort of player we might get out of him. I’m not convinced that he will stick given all of our D assets – if Leddy & Boychuk stayed, Hamonic & de Haan also seem long-term and Thomas Hickey is a gem, that’s one spot if all are healthy – Reinhart can clearly enter this mix, but he also may not be essential. He remains a trade candidate to Edmonton, especially if a young forward prospect is made available.
Assessing the Trade
This isn’t a deal I would have made, and I say that without any disrespect toward Reinhart. Mathew Barzal being on the board at No. 16 looked like an awfully nice opportunity for Edmonton; most pre-draft estimates had him inside the top-10 and the Islanders obviously saw value in snapping him up at that point in the draft. Surrendering Barzal is one thing, but to top up the trade with the No. 33 pick seems like an exorbitant price to pay for a guy who isn’t a can’t-miss prospect.
Reinhart’s a nice piece to have in the system. The price was just too rich for my blood.
Some other thoughts:
- Reinhart is a left shot defenceman, meaning that the Oilers now have him, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Martin Marincin all as logical left side players breaking into the league. That’s a lot of players at a similar stage in their development, and it probably represents the writing on the wall for Marincin. I’m not convinced Marincin is that far shy of Reinhart as a prospect, and it’s a certainty that he isn’t going to get anything close to the kind of return that Reinhart did.
- With that said, Fornabaio notes that Reinhart did play 20 games on the right side in Bridgeport last season, and that may be where his future lies in Edmonton.
- Earlier today, I described Peter Chiarelli’s familiarity with the Boston Bruins as a two-edged sword. On the positive side, it would give him an inside track on players and help the Oilers identify value; on the negative side being familiar with one team could lead to a fixation on Bruins’ players when better options exist out there. The same rationale applies to the Oil Kings. Owning a junior team should give the Oilers an inside track on WHL prospects, but sometimes it feels like the club is overemphasizing Edmonton products. Laurent Brossoit looks like a prospect, but on the other hand we have the iffy Reinhart trade and high picks spent on Mitch Moroz and Travis Ewanyk. The Oil Kings don’t have a monopoly on junior talent and so they shouldn’t have a monopoly on the Oilers’ draft picks either.
- Teams don’t generally move prospects so quickly after they draft them. Interestingly, that’s something which current Oilers employee Tyler Dellow commented upon during his previous life as a blogger; as it turns out when the team that drafted a player is willing to give up on him early the results typically aren’t good.
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