Quiet and reliable is about as sexy and attention-grabbing as driving a minivan, so it’s no surprise to me a lot of fans of the Edmonton Oilers, if not the vast majority, were looking right past Griffin Reinhart and fixing their gaze on Darnell Nurse when training camp began.
Fact is – at least until recently, when coach Todd McLellan began showing his cards at camp – Reinhart has drawn a lot of “meh” from fans and pundits since GM Peter Chiarelli acquired the former fourth overall pick from 2012 from the New York Islanders.
The former captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings is an OK but not great skater. He’s big, but he isn’t particularly physical in the sense that he seldom blows anybody up with an open ice hit or strikes fear into opponents that he’ll go off on them. Reinhart didn’t produce a lot of points as a junior. At his best, he plays a smart, efficient, quiet game.
Nurse, meanwhile, is Reinhart’s polar opposite. He’s a beautiful skater. He jumps in and out of the play, sometimes wisely, sometimes not. He’s big and tough and mean. He plays with an edge all the time. Like a sleek high-performance car, the way he roars around draws a lot of eyeballs. Nurse grabs your attention, good or bad, and doesn’t let go. Upside, people say. Upside.
Makes all the sense in the world to me because I tend to lean that way, too, but there’s something to be said about a guy like Reinhart who doesn’t slam your senses like the sound of horsepower and the smell of burning rubber, but who’ll grow on you if a quiet and reliable ride that’ll get you where you want to go is your thing. Practical.
POINT A TO POINT B
A year from now, quite possibly less depending on how things play out, the Oilers will have room for Reinhart and Nurse on their blue line. I doubt it’ll shake out that way when McLellan and Chiarelli decide who stays and who goes in coming weeks. It’ll be one or the other. I cast my vote for Reinhart back on August 28. That’s here.
Reinhart made a strong case for himself in a 3-2 win over an AHL version of the Winnipeg Jets at Rexall Place on Wednesday, providing a steady and expectedly unspectacular performance that didn’t go unnoticed by McLellan, who used a baseball analogy to describe what he’d seen.
“He didn’t seem like he’s trying to get up there and trying to hit the home run all the time,” said McLellan, who had Reinhart alongside Eric Gryba in a pairing we could see when the regular season begins. “He’s happy with singles. I thought he was good. Very poised.”
In the long term, the more dynamic Nurse might reach that higher upside people talk about and prove to be a better NHL defenseman, a top-four banger and a leader, than Reinhart. Emphasis on might. In the here and now, it looks to me Reinhart is further along and more NHL ready, as he should be having been drafted a year earlier.
The difference in style we can see now. We’ll have to wait awhile longer to see what Reinhart and Nurse provide in the way of substance while playing together on Edmonton’s blue line. From where I sit, there’s plenty of room and lots of need in the long term for what both of them bring.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- I’m not the least bit convinced Justin Schultz has somehow morphed into the aggressive, take-charge guy we saw last night against the Jets because that simply isn’t his nature. What I will give him credit for is jumping outside his comfort zone and into the fray like he did after partner Oscar Klefbom took a big hit.
Schultz isn’t going to become a big banger and that’s OK, but as long as he commits to being engaged and playing with as much purpose in his own zone as he does in his forays up the ice, it’s a step in the right direction. Whatever his motivation – he’s playing for a contract – more of what we saw Wednesday is positive sign. More, please.
- So far, Cam Talbot has been only OK.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.