2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 8 LD Griffin Reinhart
Griffin Reinhart played in a single game for the Edmonton Oilers in 2016-17. To be fair to the player, he played rather well in a difficult situation, stepping into the lineup out of necessity in a playoff elimination game and holding his own, even picking up an assist.
Even so, it was less than the team expected when it acquired him from the New York Islanders two years ago, and there’s every possibility that Reinhart will leave the Oilers organization this summer much the way he entered it: as a defenceman with pedigree, potential, but still little in the way of NHL results.
This was never the plan. Although Reinhart cannot be held responsible for the price paid to acquire him (two early picks in 2015, including the first-rounder used on Mathew Barzal) he certainly failed to live up to development path outlined by GM Peter Chiarelli at the start of training camp in 2015-16:
He has to make our team. We’ve got eight or nine D who are challenging. I believe he is. I know his year last year wasn’t great and there’s reasons behind that and that really is, not excuses, but there are reasons that explain it. But what I saw in the Memorial Cup is that you’ve got a player here who can dominate, that can lug the puck, and that can make plays and for a bigger sized man, he can move well. I would expect him to be in the top-four at some point.
Reinhart split his first year in Edmonton between the AHL and NHL, playing 30-odd games at each level. Although he entered the organization in a similar position to fellow left-shot defenders Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson, he was passed by both players.
This season, he wasn’t given the same chance to make an impression. The salary cap worked against his bonus-laden entry-level deal (teams are allowed a rookie bonus cushion, but Edmonton had so many young players that they were at risk of exceeding it) and his play was not so remarkable that the Oilers were forced to find a place for him.
Superficially, Reinhart’s offensive numbers improved in the minors, but that was largely due to a power play push at the AHL level. That’s a problem because Reinhart won’t be a power play option in the NHL, and it’s hard to make a case for him as a playmaker when he’s getting outscored 2-to-1 at evens by Mark Fayne:
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) March 20, 2017
At this point, it seems unlikely that Reinhart will ever evolve into the top-four defenceman that Chiarelli projected him to be. That doesn’t mean he can’t still have an NHL career in a lesser role.
AHL coach Gerry Fleming praised the evolution of Reinhart’s game in a January interview with 630 CHED’s Bob Stauffer:
Griff’s had maybe two bad games all year. He’s been solid for us, his compete level in practice has been good, again that’s carried over to the games. He’s doing things with a lot more intensity. One-on-one battles, he rarely loses them, he’s been strong in front of his net, he’s making guys fight for their ice and their boxed out. He’s joining the rush, although his point productivity isn’t where he’d like it to be, but he’s getting some good looks at the net and eventually he’ll start to get some points. He’s played well. The things that we’ve asked him to do, the things that we’ve asked him to work on he’s taken to heart and he’s really focused on those areas.
Even without a real offensive dimension, Reinhart is a 6’4”, 212-pound defenceman with the ability to play physically and intelligently in the defensive zone. He’s played both the left and right side extensively over his pro career, and that kind of versatility can make all the difference for a guy trying to win a third-pairing job in the majors. If he can make a competent first pass at NHL speed, that might be enough for him to have a decent career despite his limitations as a skater.
Ordinarily, we’d be talking about Reinhart as an obvious fit for the seventh defenceman role on Edmonton next year, as a cheap, versatile fill-in option who still has some untapped potential. Complicating that is the expansion draft.
Edmonton could theoretically protect four defencemen, but that would likely mean exposing Jordan Eberle and Zack Kassian, something which is difficult to justify in the name of shielding a 23-year-old who played one game this season. Assuming they don’t make that choice, Reinhart would be exposed to Las Vegas.
It’s not a lock that the Golden Knights will take Reinhart if he’s available. Edmonton will have some other interesting players on offer; certainly Laurent Brossoit, and likely one of Jujhar Khaira/Mark Letestu. What makes Reinhart interesting to Vegas is that team’s need to play the long game, to take some risks on a bunch of young players in the hopes that one or two of those gambles pays off with a long-term asset. Reinhart’s pedigree makes him an obvious possibility.
Whether or not he’s selected in expansion, Reinhart will need to make the jump to the NHL next year. Both his entry-level deal and his waiver exemption are now concluded, so he’s going to come into 2017-18 with a cheap contract and no ability to be hidden in the minors. At that point, he’ll need to win the job that has so far eluded him or risk being written off entirely as a prospect.
Bottom line: Largely forgotten this year, Reinhart needs to establish himself as an NHL defenceman in 2017-18. The only question is whether or not he’ll be doing that with the Oilers.
Previous year-end reviews:
- Adam Larsson is a long-term solution to a longstanding Oilers weakness
- Edmonton may just be stuck paying Mark Fayne for another year
- Should the Oilers give Kris Russell a long contract extension?
- Andrej Sekera brings much-needed versatility and experience to a young Edmonton blue line
- Laurent Brossoit could be the perfect backup for the Oilers, if he survives expansion