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Trade done: Florida Panthers get Sam Reinhart from Buffalo Sabres

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Buffalo Sabres center Sam Reinhart waits for the faceoff during a game against the visiting New Jersey Devils on February 25 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. // Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire

Disillusioned and frustrated with the direction the Sabres were headed, Sam Reinhart got the fresh start and change of scenery he had seemingly been hoping for as the Florida Panthers completed a trade with Buffalo on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, Reinhart spoke with the South Florida media and expressed his excitement on going from a last-place team which is not in a rebuild as much as it is a complete teardown to a legit contender.

“It’s very exciting to say the least,” Reinhart said. “I have been fortunate to play with a number of guys already on the roster. I have been in contact with a bunch of guys already. … I am absolutely thrilled and motivated to come to a group that is hungry and ready to take the next step.

“They have, in my mind, the most motivated player coming in … I want to win some meaningful games.”

Reinhart, the second-overall pick of the 2014 draft behind Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad, adds yet another talented offensive piece to what is a loaded top six in Sunrise.

Although Reinhart centered Buffalo’s top line when Jack Eichel — the cornerstone of the Sabres who himself may be headed to greener pastures — he may just be a better fit on the right side of Sasha Barkov or Sam Bennett.

If you are a Florida Panthers fan, thinking of the potential of a Carter Verhaeghe-Barkov-Rinehart line or even Jonathan Huberdeau, Bennett and Rinehart has to have you jonesing for October.

The Panthers are certainly fired up about the potential.

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News of the trade leaked out late Friday night after the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft concluded with GM Bill Zito and Buffalo counterpart Kevyn Adams declining comment on the rumors as the deal had to be worked through the NHL.

Florida, which will likely be signing Reinhart to a long-term contract in the coming days, gives up goalie prospect Devon Levi and next year’s first round pick.

Zito confirmed he and Adams had been talking about a trade leading into the draft and the deal was finished up Friday night. The two sides had some things to work out before it could become official — and it finally did Saturday afternoon.

”I had checked in with Kevyn a few times,’’ Zito said. “Sam gives us a lot of versatility, he can add playmaking and scoring. He can play up-and-down the lineup, in the middle or on the wing, power play. Anywhere, anytime. We’re excited to have him.’’

In Reinhart, the Panthers are getting back a talented top-6 forward who obviously can play on the wing or in the middle.

Florida also is in negotiations to sign Bennett, whom they acquired from Calgary at the trade deadline for next year’s second round pick and the player it selected in the second round in 2020.

Bennett was a big hit upon arrival in Florida, taking over as center of the second line with Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair (who signed a three-year deal last week). Bennett scored six goals with 15 points in 10 games with the Panthers after scoring four/12 in 38 games in Calgary.

In five playoff games, Bennett had five points.

By completing the trade, the Panthers now hold three of the top four picks of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Florida took Ekblad first, Reinhart went to Buffalo, Edmonton took Leon Draisaitl third (and the Panthers are not getting him) with Calgary drafting Bennett.

Reinhart said he had spoken with Ekblad and would be reaching out to Bennett.

As for his new contract — Reinhart made $5.2 million on a one-year deal with the Sabres — Reinhart said nothing is finalized yet. It sounds like things are close, at least. Don’t think the Panthers would have traded for Reinhart if they thought there would be a problem signing him.

“That’s all going to be finalized, worked out and announced in due time,” Reinhart said. “I just feel comfortable that we’re both excited about the future. I don’t see any issues moving forward.”

Zito said he has spoken with the agents for both Reinhart and Bennett in trying to get new deals done. Both players are restricted free agents this coming season but can be unrestricted next summer if a long-term deal is not reached.

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