David Reinbacher was waiting around to be interviewed after Montreal’s final game of the Buffalo Prospect Showcase on Monday afternoon when he was shown a picture of a sandwich.
He was confused.
The picture came from Schwartz’s Deli, a famous Montreal establishment known for smoked meat sandwiches. On any given game day, you’ll see at least a few fans wearing jerseys, getting a taste of the best the city has to offer. But Reinbacher, who has only spent a few days in the city, had never heard of it or smoked meat sandwiches.
And he had never seen a fight in person before Friday, when 5-foot-7 Xavier Simoneau tussled with Buffalo’s Chris Jandic. It wasn’t exactly a fight for the ages. But for someone who grew up playing in Europe, where fighting is rare, it was a new experience – one of many early in his pro career.
Reinbacher will kick off his first NHL training camp this month after going fifth overall to the Canadiens in 2023. The smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman got his first taste of NHL action at the rookie tournament in Buffalo last week, with the Canadiens going 2-1. The 6-foot-2 defender out of Austria recorded a secondary assist on Miguel Tourigny’s goal on Friday in a 6-3 loss to the Sabres.
From a results perspective, there isn’t much to get out of a tournament like that. Instead, it’s all about the experience. And for Reinbacher, who has just a handful of games on smaller ice with Austria’s world junior team – where he spent most of the time in his own zone just trying to survive – it was exactly what the doctor ordered. His on-ice performance in Buffalo had some mixed results, but he looked more comfortable in the latter stages of both games and was willing to take risks with the puck that others couldn’t.
“It was hard for sure,” he said. “It’s smaller (ice) here and more skilled. The guys wanted to show they’re the right kids out there. I just tried to act normal, do my thing as always. I liked the experience.”
Meaningful games or not, Reinbacher was happy for the experience. But it meant taking time away from his club team, EHC Kloten, who kicked off the regular season on Friday. Recently, Canadiens’ president Jeff Gorton said he expects Reinbacher to return to the NL if he doesn’t end up stealing a roster spot from training camp.
“It’s a huge honor for me to put on the Habs jersey,” he said. “For sure, you’re nervous, but it goes away pretty quick.”
Already signed to his NHL entry-level contract, getting a taste of the North American game was important for the 18-year-old. He has two years of pro experience, but being around NHL players and coaches and getting a taste for the lifestyle is important, too. It’s useful, even if it’s just for a few weeks before heading back to Kloten.
“You could tell he was getting more comfortable with every shift,” a scout said. “You expect that from a high pick, but we must always be patient with European defenders coming over. It’s a different ball game here with the smaller ice, more physical play.”
Assuming Reinbacher doesn’t make the Canadiens out of training camp – and with a young blueline to begin with, there’s no reason to rush him – Reinbacher will need to work on building more confidence in the offensive zone. He loves to rush the puck, but he can stall out after an initial pass. There’s less room to shoot on NHL ice, and showing a bit more urgency is needed. Reinbacher’s small-area game is still a work in progress, but the potential for him to be a high-impact, long-term solution on the blueline is undeniable.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Canadiens handle Reinbacher’s development over the next few weeks. Will he factor into a handful of preseason games? Could he even start the year with the main club before heading back? Some even believe time in Laval would be beneficial. As it stands, it looks like he’ll have a chance to be a leading piece on Kloten’s blueline, and having the chance to play heavy minutes against quality competition won’t hurt.
Reinbacher’s time in the Montreal sun will come, whenever that is. For now, he’s cherishing the experience with the NHL and loving every minute of it.
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