CHICAGO – The future of the Vegas Golden Knights blueline relies solely on Griffin Reinhart – but not for the reasons one might assume.
During the ups and downs of the Chicago Wolves season thus far, there’s been one constant for Rocky Thompson. Reinhart, the stay-at-home defenseman, has transitioned into being not only a role model for the young Chicago D corps, but into someone who also lays down his body every single game for the good of his team.
For those of you unfamiliar with the 24-year-old, he was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’s the middle brother of Max Reinhart and Sam Reinhart, and was the Vegas Golden Knights’ selection from the Edmonton Oilers in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
In his five-year professional career, the defenseman has 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 227 games at the American Hockey League level, and two assists in 27 National Hockey League games. While he may not be the most impressive scorer on the Chicago Wolves’ blueline, with three goals and four assists in 24 games played this year, Reinhart is the, well, heart and soul of the Wolves’ defense.
He’s Rocky Thompson’s undisputed workhouse, blocking every shot possible in order to make his goaltender’s life a bit easier. In fact, Reinhart was covered in ice bags after just Chicago’s second game of the season.
“We’ve got our staples and our rock,” noted Rocky earlier in the season. “Griffin Reinhart has ice bags all over his body because he’s paying the price. He’s killing penalties and yet he’s doing a great job with the puck as well, so it’s a very nice combination.”
Reinhart excels at shorthanded play, and is given some of the toughest matchups on the ice.
He’s is more than just your typical shutdown defenseman in a youthful defensive corps, however. Griffin is their mentor, their leader and their friend, and has spent a significant stretch of games paired with every one of the VGK defensive prospects – Jake Bischoff, Erik Brannstrom, Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud.
If there’s one thing to notice there, it’s that each of those five names plays a different style of hockey. Reinhart has found a way to not only tailor his game to fit the play of his partner, but to also teach them and aid their development.
“He’s one of those guys that just always knows what to do on the ice,” said Coghlan. “I can really learn stuff from a player like him. We may not be the same style of hockey players but we’re all kind of the same in a way. He’s a tremendous mentor on the team, one of the leaders for sure.”
With the loss of Paul Thompson and Jason Garrison, there were some questions as to who would now be part of this team’s leadership group, but Griffin Reinhart has clearly put them all to bed. His growth from a newly-minted professional into a level-headed veteran presence is more than apparent to anyone who has spent even a few minutes around the team, but to none perhaps more so than assistant coach Chris Dennis, who is in charge of working with the defensemen –
“Griffin, now being more of a veteran defenseman has just evolved into that role of a calming influence back there. He can play with anybody. He can play on both sides. He can go out there and just help somebody play their game, develop their game. If they make a mistake, Griff’s always there to back them up. He’s also done a great job of moving the puck and being a presence on the ice. We’re lucky to have him and he’s been really good so far this year. For us, it’s fantastic.”
In fact, Reinhart was singled out by Hague earlier this spring as being one of the guys who has aided his transition to professional hockey.
“Coming in here,” Hague explained, “one of the main reasons I wanted to come here is to kind of be a shadow to those guys [Garrison and Reinhart]. Just look at the way that they handle themselves everyday at the rink and on the ice. They’ve been professionals such a long time now… I want to have a career like they did, and if I can take anything from them at all then I’m going to take it as far as I can. They’ve been really awesome. They’ve helped me out with little pointers here and there. They’ve definitely made my transition a lot easier.”
While some players do not take too fondly to the idea of moving away from being a prospect towards someone who is more instrumental in the development of others, Reinhart is taking it in stride.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys – I think I might be one of the older dmen on the team, but it’s fun. It’s a good challenge. The young guys have done a really good job so far. They know what to do, they know what got them to this team. If they have anything they need to ask, or advice, I’m there, but so far they’ve done a really good job. ”
If any of the Vegas Golden Knights prospects pans out the way many people believe they will, do not forget the role that Griffin Reinhart has played, and will continue to play, in their developmental process.
He’s helping Brannstrom and Coghlan learn to be more responsible in the defensive zone, while showing Hague how to use his size – and the long reach that comes with it – to break up passes in front of the net. Reinhart’s leading by example with Whitecloud, demonstrating just how to be a shutdown defenseman. For Bischoff? It’s lending a helping hand – and an ear – while the defenseman continues to make a case for a full time shot at the NHL.
Griffin Reinhart is the core of the Chicago Wolves blueline, and he will forever leave his mark on the future of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Fun Fact: there was a two-game overlap between Griffin and Rocky Thompson’s respective tenures with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings in the 2009-10 season.