Kootenay Ice centre Sam Reinhart (Larry MacDougall, The Canadian Press)Cracking a Western Hockey League lineup at just 15 years old is a major coup in itself. Very few teenaged hockey players can make the jump from minor hockey to the major junior level in one shot.
What Sam Reinhart did for the Kootenay Ice this season outstripped even being among the select few who have earned their keep in the Dub before turning 16. He is one of the handful of players in recent WHL history who was an impact player in his 16-year-old season. Reinhart scored 28 goals and 62 points in 67 games with the Ice, whose year ended with a loss to Edmonton on Thursday. He had only 16 fewer points than his his much older brother, team scoring leader Max Reinhart.
"I think this season has been smooth because it's like a home environment for me," says Sam, the youngest member of the Reinhart clan who turned 16 in November. "My brother is here and he has made it a lot easier on me here than going someplace where I don't know anyone. I also got a taste of this league last year. So I kind of knew what to expect going into the season."
The Hollyburn, B.C., native is the Eastern Conference nominee for the WHL's rookie of the year award. He's up for the honour against Kamloops Blazers winger Tim Bozon, who had 35 goals and 71 points but is also 18 years old.
Reinhart's season was a pleasant surprise to most, but not to all. For those who watched him notch an outstanding 38 goals and 78 points in 34 regular-season games with the Vancouver NW Giants of the British Columbia Major Midget League last season, it wasn't a major shock to see him prosper this early.
One does have to keep in mind not all players are able to translate major midget stats to the major junior level. Nevertheless, it was clear the 6-foot-1, 177-pound centre was ready for a new challenge and possessed an elite level of skill.
Topped Shinkaruk's stats
His 62-point rookie season stands out among some of the best. A very recent comparable is Hunter Shinkaruk's rookie year with the Medicine Hat Tigers last season. Shinkaruk, who like Reinhart did not turn 16 until after the season started, netted 14 goals and 42 points.
Shinkaruk went on on to score 49 goals and 91 points this year, making him one of the top prospects of the 2013 draft class. An older comparable is Eric Staal's first season with the Peterborough Petes in 2000-01. Staal scored 19 goals and 49 points that year. Two years later he was selected No. 2 by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 draft.
The son of former NHL defenceman Paul Reinhart has set the bar high very early. Therefore, next year won't be a cakewalk for him. He will have his work cut out for him to be able to top his previous season. He also seems set to take on more of a leadership role with the Ice since veteran forwards such as Max Reinhart and Jesse Ismond will be moving on to the pros.
"I'm going to work out a lot this summer and just come to camp next year fully prepared," Sam Reinhart says. "I think I'll be a lot more comfortable too since I'll have a full season under my belt. Losing guys like Max and Jesse will definitely hurt our veteran presence. I definitely think I'll have more of a voice in the dressing room next year."
The 2014 NHL entry draft is still two years away. So it's tough to tell who will emerge as the top prospects. Three names constantly pop up, though: Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen and Barrie Colts defensive star Aaron Ekblad, who were each the No. 1 overall picks in their leagues last spring, and Reinhart.
"Sam Reinhart has to be the front runner for 2014 draft at this point," says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. "He has the intangible skills that you can't teach in that he reads the game so well, seems to have eyes in the back of his head, and always seems to be one to two steps ahead of the other players."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen.