Griffin Reinhart: Edmonton Oilers’ Risk is Islanders’ Gain


The whirlwind of the NHL draft has finally slowed down and the NHL gives us a moment to breath before the July 1st free agent frenzy kicks off.  If you’re an Edmonton Oilers fan, leaving the draft with Connor McDavid in your back pocket is enough to make the draft a success.  The Oilers could have passed on the rest of its picks and still been excited about landing the franchise center.  Unfortunately, general manager Peter Chiarelli may have had a little too much of that bravado when he punted the 16th overall pick and traded it to the New York Islanders for Griffin Reinhart.

You know the deal by now: the Oilers traded 16th and 33rd overall selections for Griffin Reinhart, the former fourth overall pick of the Islanders.  When he was selected in 2012, it was the first time the Islanders selected a defenseman in the top five since 1997 (Eric Brewer.)  After a run of selecting forwards with their first selection- Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome- the Islanders finally began turning to the blue line with their first pick (yes, Calvin de Haan was selected 12th overall in 2009 after general manager Garth Snow made a flurry of trades to move up.)  Expectations were high for Reinhart who was expected to be a building block on defense.

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Well, three years later and Reinhart still couldn’t crack the Islanders top-six.  He played eight regular season games and one playoff game this past season, playing so poorly that despite a rash of injuries to the blue line, the Islanders benched Reinhart again in elimination games for players with less pedigree than him.  This isn’t to say that Reinhart will never be a good defenseman, but his play never developed as the Islanders hoped it would, specifically his skating and quickness (he had the grace of an oil tanker on the ice.)  It also probably didn’t make anyone too pleased that Morgan Reilly, Hampus Lindholm, and Jacob Trouba, defensemen selected after Reinhart, have all been consistent contributors to their teams.

It’s understandable the Oilers wanted to bolster the blue line.  But when an established young defenseman in Dougie Hamilton gets traded for picks 15, 45, and 52 in the same draft, it makes no sense for a project like Reinhart to go for picks 16 and 33.  Absolutely none.

Make no mistake, Griffin Reinhart is no where close to a “sure thing” on the blue line.  Sure, people will tell you defensemen take longer to develop (again, we’ll just ignore the defensemen selected around Reinhart already playing) and maybe they have a point.  But how much time is reasonable to wait for a defenseman to mature?  Three years?  Five?  Seven?  At some point it’s expected that a top-five pick will be a key contributor to a team, much sooner than later.

Griffin Reinhart will be given every opportunity to make the Oilers out of training camp.  The Oilers are hoping the duo of Reinhart and Darnell Nurse will anchor the blue line for years.  They paid a steep price with that expectation and Reinhart’s leash will be long.  But two years from now if he’s still sputtering along and seemingly still not acclimated to the speed of the NHL game, he’ll be fairly branded with the “bust” label.

For the Islanders, there is no doubt Garth Snow saw a player whose value diminished every time he stepped on the ice.  Twenty-five years ago Reinhart’s size and “defensive defenseman” type would have fit well in the NHL, despite his skating woes.  Now, with an emphasis on speed, Snow saw the writing on the wall that he was staring down the barrel at a guy who will top out as a third-pairing defenseman.  Another season with Reinhart in the AHL or sitting in the press box would have killed his trade value.

So Snow got proactive and picked up two significant pieces for the defenseman.  After moving the 33rd pick and a third round pick, he eventually ended up with picks 16 and 28 which turned into forward prospects Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier.  I am not going to sit here and pretend to have any advanced knowledge on either kid.  But by all accounts, it seems the Islanders did well with both picks, especially Barzal, who surprisingly slipped out of the top-10 according to most draft experts.  Sure, it’s fair to criticize Garth Snow for selecting Griffin Reinhart with the fourth overall pick originally, but he folded his losing hand before losing all his money.  He learned his lesson and traded his guy when his value was its highest…it was beautiful asset management.

For the Oilers and Peter Chiarelli, they’ve taken a huge risk on Griffin Reinhart.  Anyone can sit back and take Connor McDavid first overall.  But trading away two big assets for an unproven player when you have holes all over the lineup?  It’s the kind of move that can shape a franchise…and not in a good way.

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