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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Sam Reinhart Has Grown Into True Leader for the Florida Panthers

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Sam Reinhart celebrates after scoring during the second period of a game against the Sharks in Sunrise on Feb. 9 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Sam Reinhart has been around hockey his entire life.

He and his two older brothers, Max and Griffin, grew up in the game as his father Paul Reinhart spent 11 seasons in the NHL.

With three role models to look up to — both Max and Griffin had a brief stint in the league before the youngest Reinhart boy made his NHL debut in 2015 — Sam had a lot of help learning hockey from the inside out.

And that has helped lead to a very successful NHL career — and now his first sustained playoff run with the Florida Panthers.

“I grew up around the game, watching my brothers play and go through the same kind of experiences growing up that I was able to go through,” Reinhart said.

“I had a lot of talks with my dad. He coached me a lot growing up and even when he wasn’t behind the bench, he was running practices all the time.

“Those chats going home from games are things you remember.”

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Over 600 NHL regular games later, the 27-year-old has become a leader in the Florida locker room and a guy other players look up to and search out for advice.

During this playoff run, he has been approached by someone else, too.

“If I am going to ask someone what is going on with our team, I am asking him,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

”I don’t know what he wants to do after his career is over — hopefully it’s not for a long time — but if he wants to stay in hockey, he’d be a general manager.”

Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres near the start of their lengthy playoff drought in 2013, Reinhart endured a lot of change and styles of play with a rotating cast of young players before getting traded to the Panthers in the summer of 2021.

Although the Sabres did not make the playoffs in his time in Buffalo, he learned how to adjust to roster changes and new systems.

When the Panthers made some adjustments this offseason despite being the league’s top regular season team, Reinhart served as a trusted voice in the Florida locker room.

“I think there are a lot of moving parts. A lot of new systems are being implemented over the years, so it’s all knowledge that you gain,” Reinhart said.

“You have to try and learn the system as fast as you can and lead by example.”

Reinhart has a good read on all kinds of systems and has served as a buffer between Maurice and the team as Florida struggled to adjust to the changes throughout the regular season.

As the Panthers worked through an inconsistent regular season — sitting as low as 13th in the Eastern Conference in January — Maurice would go to Reinhart for the players’ opinion on what needed to change for the system to be successful.

And, while a lot of Florida’s misfortunes was due to key pieces of its lineup missing due to illness and injury, those tweaks helped the team be able to go on a run once it became fully healthy.

“There is the game and then there’s ‘what’s right about the game?’ Then there’s what the coaches think happened and what players think happened. A lot of times, those are two different things,” Maurice said.

“I’ll talk to Sam sometimes to find out what happened in the game. What do you see? What’s going on? Whether it is the system or what is going on in the neutral zone. He is usually right.”

Reinhart had to play with nearly every player on the roster throughout the tumultuous regular season but he has usually strapped next to 21-year-old Anton Lundell for the large majority of his tenure in Sunrise.

With that came a demotion to the bottom half of Florida’s lineup — which is unusual for a player capable of scoring on a point-per-game pace as Reinhart did in 2021-22 — but it is one he has accepted with grace.

Instead of complaining about not being in the team’s top-6, Reinhart helped elevate the young players Maurice entrusted him to work with.

It also gave the Panthers three lines capable of playing against the opposition’s top players.

“He is a high-end player who accepts what you might call a third-line role happily,” Maurice said.

“He develops two young players with no ego and never once talked about ice time this year.”

Reinhart used the same leadership skills he used to help Maurice implement his system while working with Lundell over the last two years.

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Sam Reinhart reacts after scoring the game-winning goal with teammate Anton Lundell during overtime of Game 3 on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

With Reinhart having experience playing down the middle, he was able to help Lundell with the ins and outs of the position and he became a reliable option in the defensive zone quickly.

Lundell’s offensive game has blossomed in the 2023 postseason as well. He has seven points in the past five games and has been a huge component of Florida’s six-game postseason winning streak.

“Ever since my first practice here last season, I was impressed,” Lundell said of Reinhart.

“It feels really good that we are able to work together and be on the puck. One guy is going one way on the other guy is already reading the next play. He is always in the right spot and I think that’s the key for our line. We want to be a step ahead all the time.”

Maurice added 25-year-old breakout star Eetu Luostarinen to that line and it has been humming along ever since.

Luostarinen was the Panthers’ fourth-line center last year and has been moved up to the top-9 to play varying roles in the lineup. Most commonly he has become a hard fore-checking winger who has excelled on both ends of the ice.

There are always growing pains when switching positions — especially with defensive assignments between three guys who are used to playing down the middle — but Reinhart has made that transition seamless.

“When he is sitting on the bench talking to those two young guys about a scheme that happened on the ice, I don’t need to check on him,” Maurice said.

”You just learn so much from a guy like that because standing behind the bench is completely different than experiencing the speed and the reads that happened. He can talk in great detail about body positions on the ice and what’s going on.”

Reinhart’s role on the ice has been just as apparent as it has been for him as its been to the young players he is mentoring.

He was the overtime hero in Game 3 of Florida’s second-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs after a brilliant showing of IQ and hustle by springing a cycle play around the boards and finishing it off with a wrap-around from behind the net.

In his second playoff run in his near-decade long career, he has five goals and seven points in 10 games.

“He has an incredible read of the game and you see it. You think of a guy that doesn’t get around the ice as fast and his game just keeps getting faster when he was incredibly effective. But there is some grit there,” Maurice said.

“He reminds me a little bit of Ray Whitney. He’s got some bite but he is very, very bright. He has always impressed me.”

Reinhart’s line has embodied the style of play that Maurice wanted to implement when he joined the Panthers in the 2022 offseason.

They forecheck hard, they make the right reads and they play a strong defensive game.

The rest of the team has stuck to that same identity and it is showing in what is their deepest playoff run since 1996.

One win away from their first Conference final berth in 27 years, the focus is the same: Stick to the identity.

“I think our game is much different right now,” Reinhart said.

“A lot of different personnel, different systems. You need some depth to be able to execute on a nightly basis and the three of us are trying to do that consistently.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) AT FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)

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