For the first time in at least a year, Sam Reinhart only has to focus on hockey as he tries to make the Buffalo Sabres.
The team's top prospect couldn't be happier to finally be able to narrow his focus.
Buffalo's first-round pick in this year's draft was the main draw as the Sabres opened their week-long development camp Monday. Most of the several hundred fans on hand at the First Niagara Center had their cameras focused on him every time he took a shift. He was among the fastest players on the ice and showed a deft touch when handling the puck.
That touch is part of what made him a candidate to be the first overall pick in this past draft. The 18-year-old forward said the attention revolving around that and the draft process made his job a bit harder last season:
"It was a thrill to have all that over with and get out there. It's a lot more comforting knowing all that's over with and you can really get down to business, enjoy the week and the first experience at an NHL level."
He made it clear that he intends to keep that experience going come October. He signed a three-year, entry-level deal last week and is pegged to compete for an NHL roster spot in training camp.
"It was really exciting and an honor to be signed," he said. "My goal is to be here next year and make an impact."
Judging by the reactions of those who skated with him Monday, that's a real possibility.
"Everyone knows how good he is," said 2014 second-round draft pick Brendan Lemieux, who skated with Reinhart in 2-on-1 drills. "What really sets him apart is how smart he is."
"He makes good plays on the ice, and he's a smart," J.T. Compher said. "He's a very hard-working, humble guy."
Reinhart earned his reputation with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. He earned the league MVP this past season, scoring 36 goals and 69 assists in 60 regular season games.
As Buffalo's highest draft pick since Pierre Turgeon was drafted first overall in 1987, Reinhart comes in with huge expectations to be a future leader. Reinhart is projected to be a top-six forward for the Sabres to enter the 2014-15 season. But, in spite of his confidence, he knows he can't just walk in and take a spot like that.
Tags: Brendan Lemieux, Buffalo, Buffalo Sabres, Hockey, J.T. Compher, NHL, Sam Reinhart"As a young guy coming into the league, you have to get bigger and stronger and get used to the pace," he said. "I have to work to prepare for what's ahead. I think I'll be fine."