Friday October 31st, 2014

A broken heart will prevent Sam Reinhart from seeing it this way, but the Buffalo Sabres did him a huge favor by returning him to junior hockey on Friday.

Ostensibly, the decision to send the second pick in the 2014 draft back to the Kootenay Ice was about doing the right thing for his development. No doubt, time spent with players his own age, his own size and speed is best for him now.

But in reality, this is all about getting him out of harm's way.

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We're less than a month into the new season and already it's clear that this campaign is going to be an epic disaster for the Sabres. That's not necessarily a bad thing for a franchise with long-term vision, considering the draft prizes that are waiting at the end of this six-month beating, but it's a minefield of limited opportunities, bad habits and worse attitudes that could damage an impressionable young talent like Reinhart.

Not that the past month was wasted. Reinhart built his brand around his extraordinary on-ice awareness, and he showed more than a few flashes of that during his nine-game stint with the Sabres. But the way he was utilized—more than 70 percent defensive zone starts and saddled consistently with hamfisted plumbers on the wings—reduced his effectiveness. And no matter how well he thinks the game, he has to be strong enough to protect the puck, get to the dirty areas and handle his defensive assignments. It was pretty clear from the start that he was coming up shy in that department and that coach Ted Nolan's trust was fading.

So after nine games and one assist in the Show, Reinhart will have to forget about the NHL and get back to working on his long-term goals. He'll play heavy minutes in all situations with the Ice. He'll have time to add some much needed muscle to his 6'-1", 185-pound frame. And he'll likely anchor the second line behind Connor McDavid for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

It's not what he wants, but it's what's best. Just give him a few days to figure that out for himself.

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