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Playing it Safe: The Oilers and Griffin Reinhart

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The Oilers acquired defenseman Griffin Reinhart at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Here's a quick look at some possible reasons why.

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Griffin Reinhart has been a player of hotly debated merit by Oilers fans since he was traded for at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. There have been those who believe he is not worth what the Oilers traded for him -the 16th and 33rd picks in the 2015 Entry Draft. Others believe the Oilers are taking a chance on a defenseman who could become something great. Whether or not Reinhart was worth what the Oilers traded for him will only be seen through the coming seasons as Reinhart matures as a player and becomes a constant in the Oilers lineup.

Reinhart does have several qualities and characteristics which will serve him well in his time with the Oilers; however, he also has some characteristics which may worry those judging his worthiness. It is important to construct a complete portrait since a greater understanding of Reinhart will allow for those interested in judging the value of the trade to come to their own conclusions.

Reinhart is a safe trade for a struggling Oilers team. He brings size, physicality, and a stay-at-home mentality to a depleted Oilers defense. Reinhart is further along developmentally than any defensive prospect the Oilers might have selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and has an excellent hockey pedigree. His father is former NHLer Paul Reinhart, and he has an older brother Max (now with the Nashville Predators) and a younger brother Sam, who was drafted 2nd overall in the 2014 NHL entry draft. All in all, on paper Reinhart looks like a future superstar.

When the fact Reinhart was a 4th overall selection in the 2012 NHL entry draft is considered, it looks like the Oilers got a deal. A highly touted defensive prospect further advanced in his development than a 2015 Draft eligible player, Reinhart should have the Oilers faithful excited. Instead, they point out he can't score. Even in junior, Reinhart didn't manage impressive point production; a fact that worries those studying the trade. Did the Oilers give up a potential goal-scoring forward to obtain a one-dimensional defenseman?

Background

Reinhart played his junior hockey in Edmonton with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. Reinhart played for four seasons for the Oil Kings, including his last where he was returned by the Islanders after a stint in the NHL. Reinhart learned valuable lessons in both patience and what it means to be successful by being returned to the WHL.

Reinhart was the captain of the Oil Kings for his last two seasons. During his captaincy, his team made the Ed Chynoweth Cup finals twice and won one Ed Chynoweth Trophy and one Memorial Cup. Added to Reinhart's previous 2012 Ed Chynoweth Cup and 2014 WHL Playoff MVP Trophy, he has an impressive junior trophy case.

Having graduated from junior, Reinhart reported to the New York Islanders and was eventually assigned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, after starting the season in the NHL. He collected a respectable 22 points in his rookie AHL season. While this may not seem like many, the most he ever collected in junior was 36. Reinhart is not a powerhouse offensive forward.

While by some measures Reinhart didn't have a successful first pro season (he didn't make the NHL, he didn't score a lot of goals, the Sound Tigers didn't make the playoffs), he still managed some important milestones. First, he made the cut for the 23-man opening roster for the second time. Second, he was called back up at the end of the AHL season and made his NHL post-season debut. This provides him more post season experience than many Oilers players.

Defensive Mindset

There are a lot of ways to describe Griffin Reinhart, but saying he has a defensive mindset is one of the most concise. A common phrase for the way Reinhart plays is "stay-at-home defenseman." His priority is stopping other players from scoring on his team, not scoring himself. Despite his low point totals, scouts like him and, he was viewed as talented enough to go 4th overall in his draft year. While Reinhart might not be an elite-scoring defenseman, he is certainly an elite prospect in his own end.

Reinhart is excellent at breaking up plays coming into his end. It was not uncommon to see him simply force an opposing player into the boards, stripping the attacker of the puck, and sending it back up the ice to his own team throughout his junior career. Reinhart also has good vision on ice. He is able to limit shot selection from opposing teams, and is able to use his size, speed, and wingspan to his advantage.

The general agreement on Reinhart is that he is an elite defensive defenseman. However, the concern around Reinhart is his that defensive focus limits his abilities offensively. That's not to say he doesn't have good offensive instincts. He does. He doesn't have good offensive results, causing Oilers fans to doubt his overall worth.  He should balance someone like Schultz, who seems to have the offensive side down but is struggling with the defensive mindset.

Point Production

Reinhart isn't known for putting up a large number of points. This has been the number one source of worry for those watching is development. There's no way to sugar coat Reinhart's numbers. They're mediocre at best.

He managed a career high of only 36 points in junior. With his size, strength, and powerful point shot, it might have been expected that Reinhart would have a much greater career high for point produced .. Simply put, Reinhart doesn't score. His lack of production has even become something of a joke.

The catch to this situation is that is not what the Oilers are looking for out of Reinhart. They are expecting him to play defensively. Former Oil Kings General Manager Bob Green summed it up efficiently "he's a defencemen; we need defencemen." Reinhart may not be the player Oilers fans were hoping to get out of this trade, but he may need to be the one they need.

It should be noted that when Reinhart scores, his goals are quite spectacular.

Big-Game Mentality

Reinhart can step up his game in big-game situations. His play in the 2014 WHL playoffs was a difference maker for the Oil Kings--earning him the Playoff MVP Award--and his performance in the 2014 Memorial Cup was superb. He was a major part of a defense that shut down the high-powered offence of the Guelph Storm. Reinhart knows how to play in big games.He scored half as many points (13) in the playoffs for the Oil Kings as he did all year (21). Reinhart likes the big games, and he shows up to play.

Reinhart has also been selected for the World Junior's roster twice, once despite a rather regrettable suspension, indicating Team Canada coaches saw qualities in the big defenseman they thought important.  Though Reinhart's World Juniors teams failed to medal, Reinhart still garnered experience in playing big games. World Juniors' experience has been highly touted in other Oilers players, such as Eberle, who Oilers fans are quick to point out was incredibly successful at World Juniors on a personal level.

Reinhart has risen to the occasion when playing big games in junior, but has limited experience playing in them on the professional level. He has the correct mentality and experience to deal with playing in high-pressure situations, which is an asset on an Oilers team with relatively little postseason experience.

Leadership

There's been some doubt in the Oilers fan base and pundits of the importance of leadership in a player. Are leadership characteristics valuable to a team? Yes.  Are they valuable to fans? Not in the same way.  Leadership doesn't win games, and most times it can't be pinned to one moment that turned a game around and made a victory possible.

Sometimes, it can be however. Sometimes, there's a moment when a particular player steps up and that action changes the course of the game. Doing that is the mark of a good leader. For instance, Reinhart rarely fights, but when he does it is usually for a teammate. This sort of mentality shows Reinhart to be a team player, a character guy for lack of a better term. The type of guy who inspires loyalty and respect in those with which he plays.  These are desirable qualities to find in a young player when building a team for the future.

While Reinhart wore a letter--the "C"-- for the Oil Kings (in a leadership laden environment), it is unlikely he will wear a letter for the Oilers any time soon. He can however still lead without a letter. A positive attitude, work ethic, ability to log minutes, and make strong defensive plays will go a long way towards cementing his place in the Oilers organization.

Reinhart is also used to the public aspect of playing in Edmonton. This should be helpful as the Edmonton media and public are intensely interested in the Oilers, and all the attention may be daunting to a player just coming to Edmonton for the first time. This is the "hometown advantage" Reinhart possesses. While Reinhart still makes mistakes in dealing with the media, he has enough practice they should be limited and enough familiarity to find his feet quickly. All of these are good things.

Conclusion

There are a host of both supporters and detractors of the Reinhart trade. Whether this was a smart trade for the Oilers to make remains to be seen. It is certainly a safe trade. It brings them a player more advanced in his development than a 2015 NHL Entry Draft Prospect. The Oilers know what they are getting in trading for Reinhart, whereas draft picks have a good deal more uncertainty around them. This makes Reinhart a safe trade for the Oilers.

He gives them a big, mobile defenseman with a focus on playing a defensively responsible game. This trade was designed to fill a need as the Oilers saw in their system. Reinhart is player who knows how to win big games, how to lead a team, and what hockey is like in Edmonton. Beyond that, Reinhart remains one of the more highly touted prospects coming out of his draft year.

After hearing consistently about how defensemen take more time to develop than forwards, it would be disappointing to see Oilers fans throw Reinhart under the bus on the strength of eight NHL games played instead of letting him develop and assuming that the Islanders have given up on him. Simply put, the Islanders may have felt the need to acquire another player in a year they were relatively short on draft picks.  McLellan is interested in building a foundation and allowing the Oilers to grow as a team, and there should be no reason why Reinhart can't be part of that growth

It is important to remember Reinhart has a great number of tools but is still young. The player he is now may grow into a player more closely aligned with what Oilers fans were looking for in this trade.  Until something more solid has been established, talking of wasting talent and what might have been available seems almost wasteful itself. The Oilers made a safe play in acquiring Reinhart, and the rest will be written on the ice.