BROSSARD, Que. — David Reinbacher is under pressure as a fifth-overall pick for the Montreal Canadiens.
But head coach Martin St. Louis believes the 18-year-old Austrian defenceman is doing just fine despite adjusting to the smaller North American ice surface.
"So far, so good,” said St. Louis at the Canadiens practice facility on Friday. “He's got great poise as an 18-year-old, he makes a lot of great hockey decisions on the ice, he's got a high IQ.
“He's just getting his reps right now. It's a pace that he probably hasn't seen quite yet. But I'm very happy with what I'm seeing."
Making quick decisions with the puck is one of the biggest adjustments on North American ice due to the lack of space compared to the bigger European surface.
That’s a skill St. Louis believes Reinbacher has plenty of.
"The decision-making that he has right now is elite for an 18-year-old,” said St. Louis, who noted Reinbacher’s vision and maturity with the puck. “It's a very important skill to be successful in this league. He's got that."
Reinbacher says he’s getting used to the rink's size after also playing in the NHL rookie tournament this month in Buffalo, N.Y.
But the young blueliner, who produced 22 points in 46 games for Kloten HC of Switzerland’s top league last season, likely won’t be making the full-time jump to North America until at least a year from now after Montreal vice president Jeff Gorton told reporters the plan is for Reinbacher to return to Europe.
Reinbacher says he would be open to playing in the American Hockey League but trusts the vision of the Canadiens’ brass.
And most importantly, he just wants to play hockey, no matter the size of the ice.
“It depends how much you're playing,” Reinbacher said of his development. "I mean, it's a big difference if you played 10 minutes or probably 25 back home. I can't say if I'm playing 20 minutes here for sure, you have to deserve it."
Reinbacher has paired with second-year blueliner Kaiden Guhle through two days of training camp.
Guhle, a 21-year-old from Edmonton, put forth a strong rookie campaign last season with four goals and 14 assists in 44 games, averaging over 20 minutes a night before his season was cut short due to a high ankle sprain.
He says his goal this season is to play 82 games and stay consistent.
"I think that's a big thing coming into the league is just consistency and being as similar as you can every night,” he said. “I think a lot of it is mental preparation, I think if you want to be consistent, got to be prepared every night.”
Guhle is one of several Canadiens players looking to avoid a “sophomore slump” after many rookies cracked the roster amid a high turnover in personnel last season, including Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris and Rafael Harvey-Pinard.
St. Louis followed Guhle’s theme when asked what a player can do to avoid a second-year dip in performance.
“What does a player have to do not to have a sophomore slump? It’s consistency, and without discipline, you won’t have consistency,” said St. Louis. “If you think after your rookie year that you’ve arrived, and you lose a bit of your discipline and preparation, you’ll lose that consistency.”
Veteran forward Brendan Gallagher echoed much of the same.
"The only trap to avoid is just to never feel comfortable," said Gallagher. "It doesn't matter who you are or where you're at. There's always people pushing for your opportunities and you never take anything for granted, so continue to earn it and continue to feel like you're being pushed."
Guhle said he came into camp with the mentality that he’ll have to earn his spot but also has the confidence of a true professional with an NHL season under his belt, which wasn’t the case when he played in his first camp a couple years ago.
To that end, he says Reinbacher reminds him a bit of himself.
"I was definitely nervous and tentative to meet the NHL guys and be around the NHL guys (at my first camp), and I saw that too a little bit of him when he first came in," said Guhle. "But he seems a lot more comfortable now."
Reinbacher says he’s taking it all in.
"It was really special,” he said of first taking the ice with NHL players. “You play back home on the PlayStation with those guys like Caufield, Suzuki, Matheson, all those guys. Now to be on the ice (with) them and trying to compete against each other, it's really special."
Reinbacher could play his first game at the Bell Centre when the Canadiens open their pre-season on Monday against the New Jersey Devils.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.