When the Islanders sent 2012 first round pick and future defenseman Griffin Reinhart back down to Juniors to play for the Edmonton Oil Kings, some were not too sure if it was a good choice. When the injuries to Lubomir Visnovsky and Brian Strait occurred soon after, that decision arose again. No doubt Griffin Reinhart was not happy about getting sent down without even getting in a single game, but to spend another year in Juniors with a team that had lost 10 players to graduation did not help matters. The Edmonton Oil Kings were not favored to go deep in this years playoffs according to Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal.
“We weren’t picked to probably get a round or two,” Laxdal said. “But our leadership group has been outstanding. Look at the guys in our dressing room. It’s a team, they are solid as a rock and they play and they battle for each other. There’s a lot of love in that dressing room.”
But to everyone’s astonishment, the Oil Kings racked up another 50 win season and looked poised to go deep into the playoffs, something the Islanders were hoping for, and it came down to a series against an old rival, the Portland Winterhawks who, like the Oil Kings, had been to the WHL Finals the last two years. So the script was set and the rubber match commenced. Portland took a 2-0 series lead and they had increased their unbeaten streak at home to 25.
The Oil Kings had been dominate at home during the playoffs and were able to tie the series up at 2-2, leaving them with the daunting task of beating Portland in their home, but that’s exactly what they did with a terrific defense led by Reinhart and to many, that win in game 5 not only snapped Portland’s winning streak at home, but was the momentum shift they needed. The Oil Kings coughed one up in game 6 when they had a three goal lead and blew it at home (sound familiar?). So that set up game 7 and for the Oil Kings when they regained the same three goal lead, they learned form their previous mistake and suffocated Portland’s chances. To no one’s surprise, Griffin Reinhart was named MVP of the playoffs. Many believe that had Griffin not gotten injured last year before the Finals, this could have been three in a row, but like Meat Loaf said “Two out of three ain’t bad.” Now it’s off to London Ontario for the Memorial Cup.
The Islanders could not have asked for a better learning experience for Reinhart than this year and he’s not done yet. The decision to send him down for another year will pay huge dividends for the Islanders near future. So what are the fans getting? The next Potvin? Not likely in terms of goals or points scored, but you could make a case for a leadership role on this Islanders team. Future captain? Maybe, he wouldn’t be a bad choice after Tavares. If his skills match his leadership, the Islanders will have their defenseman they’ve long been waiting for.