When the Florida Panthers last played the Buffalo Sabres, Sam Reinhart said while he was excited about facing his former teammates, the reunion would have been a little sweeter had it been in Buffalo instead of Sunrise.
Monday, Reinhart gets his game in western New York after all.
Before stepping on the ice with the Panthers, Reinhart had spent his entire NHL career in Buffalo. The second overall pick — behind Aaron Ekblad — in the 2014 draft, Reinhart had a lot of ups and downs with the Sabres.
Most of the downs transpired over what would be his final few seasons. There were rumors of trade demands amid another rebuild in Buffalo.
After the Sabres traded him to the Panthers at the 2021 draft, Reinhart said he contacted GM Kevyn Smith.
“I thought it was important to reach out to him when we’ve had a little more time to digest a little bit,” Reinhart said before the Panthers played host to Buffalo back in December.
“It’s not a 20-second conversation. I respect him, I respect everyone that’s still there. So, no hard feelings.”
On Saturday night, Reinhart was asked if he had thought about Sunday’s flight to Buffalo and his first game back in front of the Sabres’ faithful.
He said the first meeting between the two teams was not as strange as he thought it might be and that he was looking forward to getting out there.
The Panthers, currently a point back of Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division standings, have won their past two games and are trying to win every game they can as they battle for the division title.
“I spent quite a few years there,” Reinhart said. “There are a lot of relationships and you look forward to seeing guys again. It wasn’t as weird as I thought when they were down here and it turned out to be just another game once the puck dropped.
“I’m sure it’ll be a little different in Buffalo, but I am looking forward to it.”
Florida ended up giving its first-round pick in this year’s draft plus emerging goalie prospect Devon Levi (a seventh-round pick in 2020) to land Reinhart and things have worked out pretty well for both Reinhart and the Panthers.
With 52 points in 52 games, he has already exceeded last year’s total and he is 13 points away — with 27 games left — from matching the career high he set in 2019.
Reinhart is currently tied with Sasha Barkov for second on the team in scoring and his 18 goals is tied for fourth with Jonathan Huberdeau.
After a slow start, Reinhart has certainly picked things up as he has helped fuel a very successful third line.
Although Mason Marchment is now playing up top with Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe, Reinhart and rookie Anton Lundell have kept the good times rolling with Frank Vatrano now playing on the left side.
Reinhart has a goal and five points in his past five games.
“It feels really good; I know where he’s going and there are behind-the-back, no-look passes,” Lundell said of Reinhart.
“He is a really good player and I like playing with him. He is a really good passer, is patient and has a really good shot. His hockey IQ is elite.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Key Bank Center, Buffalo
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- 2021 regular season series: Did not play
- Season Series — Florida leads 1-0: @Florida 7, Sabres 4 (Dec. 2)
- All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-43-5, 4 ties