Canadiens Prospects, David Reinbacher, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Juraj Slafkovsky, William Trudeau

Canadiens Make Right Decision to Cut Reinbacher from Training Camp

You can add defenseman David Reinbacher to the list of Montreal Canadiens training camp cuts. It’s a list of arguably premature cuts, but ultimately justifiable cuts all the same, as Reinbacher gets loaned to EHC Kloten in Switzerland.

Reinbacher was joined by the likes of goalie Jakub Dobes, defenseman William Trudeau and forward Sean Farrell. The cuts came after the team’s second straight preseason loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sep. 30, but most significantly with a week and a half left in camp (and after they announced a slew of cuts, including standouts Owen Beck and Joshua Roy, earlier in the day). Of note, none of the prospects mentioned need to go through waivers.

David Reinbacher Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman David Reinbacher – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Obviously, Reinbacher, the team’s first-round 2023 draft pick, needs little introduction. While Reinbacher’s selection had come under fire at fifth overall, there is no disputing his skill… or that he was having a pretty decent camp. So, why cut him now?

Canadiens Aren’t Ready for Reinbacher

Some may argue Reinbacher’s ready right now. While that is highly subjective and disputable, the simple fact is the Canadiens simply aren’t ready for him. There’s no room on the roster as it’s constructed right now to first award him a roster spot regardless of how deserving he is… and then give him the ice time he needs to properly develop.

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That’s ice time Reinbacher will most certainly get playing in Switzerland, after his team had come to an agreement with the Habs. According to reports, Reinbacher would either make the team out of training camp or not play in North America (i.e., the American Hockey League) at all this season. Circumstances are obviously slightly different, but it’s a similar decision ex-general manager Marc Bergevin had acknowledged as a mistake with Jesperi Kotkaniemi (from “Stu Cowan: Canadiens can learn from mistakes with Jesperi Kotkaniemi,” Montreal Gazette, Sep. 7, 2021).

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canadiens selected Kotkaniemi third overall in 2018 and put him on the team right away with mixed results. After a somewhat-tumultuous three seasons with the Canadiens (especially regarding his development), he ultimately signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes, for whom he played the last two seasons.

Related: Canadiens Get Short-Term Upgrade on Kotkaniemi in Dvorak

In Kotkaniemi’s case, the decision wasn’t so clear-cut, in that the Canadiens would have been returning him to Porin Assat, which would go on to post the worst record in the SM-Liiga by 20 points (16-38-6). However, fans don’t need to look back nearly that far for an example of the Canadiens arguably rushing the development of a top prospect.

Reinbacher vs. Slafkovsky

After 2022 first-overall-pick Juraj Slafkovsky made the Habs that ensuing season, they played him a 30th-ranked 12:13 per game. He ended up with four goals and 10 points in 39 games, before suffering a season-ending injury last January. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season, which left many wondering why the Canadiens didn’t just play Slafkovsky in the AHL if they weren’t going to play him in Montreal.

Juraj Slafkovsky Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Juraj Slafkovsky – (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One season later, Slafkovsky is showing progress in training camp and his roster spot with the Canadiens is for all intents and purposes cemented (for better or worse). However, there are legitimate questions as to whether the Canadiens stalled his development last season simply to keep a top pick in the NHL instead of going against the grain. Keep in mind, it’s not like the Habs were competing for a playoff spot and opted to go with their veterans to try to win either.

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So, it’s a positive sign that a) the Canadiens cut Reinbacher and the team’s other top prospects listed earlier and b) they cut those prospects when they did, when there was little hope of them making the team out of training camp. Fans and media types alike seem guilty of it each camp, getting caught up in the hype surrounding a given prospect when there’s close to zero chance they beat out the veterans with one-way contracts in line for spots.

Trudeau as a Case Study

Look at Trudeau as a case study. He’s been one of the most impressive players at camp, bar none. However, he’s also a left-handed defenseman, below Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj on the team’s depth chart. With so many waiver-exempt players theoretically above him, you’d think he’d have a decent shot at usurping one of them. If he couldn’t, it’s just unrealistic to believe another prospect can defy the odds.

William Trudeau Charlottetown Islanders
Current-Montreal Canadiens defenseman William Trudeau – (Darrell Theriault | Charlottetown Islanders)

The logjam throughout the Canadiens roster has been well-documented. However, if there was one position at which there might be a spot, it would Reinbacher’s right side on defense. Justin Barron, who’s still waiver-exempt, hasn’t had a great camp, while Chris Wideman is on the last year of his deal as a depth defenseman at a cap hit that can easily be buried in the AHL. Meanwhile, David Savard probably doesn’t have a future with the team past his current deal, making him expendable relatively speaking.

It all probably explains why Logan Mailloux is still in camp. He’s shown flashes of offensive talent, but a lack of defensive polish to be kind. The notion that Mailloux has been more impressive than Reinbacher, who’s probably been steadier and has actually tallied a point (assist) to Mailloux’s none, is highly debatable.

Nevertheless, they are different players with different skill sets, ceilings and needs. As Marco D’Amico at Montreal Hockey Now recently argued, the Canadiens would have been likelier to place Reinbacher in defensive situations this coming season had he stayed, which is the stronger aspect of his game. He needs to refine his offensive game, meaning deployment as his Swiss team’s top defenseman is probably better for his overall development. That must be the Canadiens’ top priority.

So, cutting Reinbacher was the right move, made that much easier by the lack of roster spots available. It’s not a reflection on him but both current circumstances and hopefully acknowledgement that the team’s development of its top prospects is far from infallible, especially considering the young defenseman’s specific needs. Acknowledgement to that effect is what the team needs in turn. So, consider this a good sign, just like all the top-end prospects fans are seeing get cut right now… in terms of the team’s promise for the future. Reinbacher still figures in to a great degree, even if it will only be eventually.

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