Since he broke training camp with the team after a solid preseason, the question surrounding Griffin Reinhart wasn't "can he play for the Islanders" but rather "where would he play?"
Of the six regular defenders, five were already penciled in. That left Reinhart, large human Matt Carkner and Matt Donovan, another rookie who impressed the coaches but one who had two seasons on AHL experience, to fight over the final remaining slot.
Yes, the path for Donovan seemed a clear one even going back to the decision to say goodbye to former captain Mark Streit. But Reinhart looked too comfortable in the exhibition games to send back right away.
Whether he would have played some, all or more of the nine allotted games he could have under the NHL's agreement with the Canadian Hockey League is known only to the Islanders. Maybe if a defenseman had gotten hurt or faltered, Reinhart would have found himself in the pros.
But with a 2-0-1 start, no injuries on the blueline and one injured forward - Cal Clutterbuck - set to return, Reinhart was sent back to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League today to get playing time. Although he didn't get to play with the Islanders in a regular season game, Reinhart did earn a week travelling and practicing with the big club, much like 2010 first rounder Ryan Strome did in 2011.
In yesterday's New York Post, writer Brett Cyrgalis spoke with Reinhart, who said not playing was "frustrating" and that, "I don't think there's too much more for me to be learned [in junior]." The story also heavily referenced Nino Niederreiter, now the Islanders fan's go-to Boogie Man for botched prospect development.
But the differences between Niederreiter's horrific rookie season and this current Islanders squad are many. For one, the Islanders don't need a rookie's goosed salary to keep them above the cap floor. Second, the Islanders have a few quality veterans on the roster that will be in the team's plans beyond this season.
And, most importantly, they have other home-grown prospects who the team feels are more ready for the NHL than Reinhart is right now. And this is a good thing.
In last night's 6-1 drubbing of Phoenix, Matt Donovan scored his first career NHL goal. It's doubtful that a single goal signed Reinhart's plane ticket. But it emphasized that the Islanders, as currently constructed, have a defined pipeline to the NHL.
Donovan's the last guy in right now and Reinhart has to go to the back of the line until next season's training camp (thanks to that durned CHL agreement).
By that time, there's a good chance another spot will open and Reinhart, having come so close this year, will probably by the new new guy.
More from Lighthouse Hockey:
- [Bits] Coyote Trapped, Reinhart Sits, MacKinnon Learns from Professors Tavares & Crosby
- Post-Game: Capuano on win over Coyotes, where 6-1 final flatters the Islanders
- Recap: New York Islanders 6, Phoenix Coyotes 1 - Powerplay, Nielsen line in cakewalk; Donovan scores 1st NHL goal
- Islanders Assign Kirill Kabanov to ECHL Stockton: 'Personal' or Other?
- Preview: New York Islanders vs. Phoenix Coyotes, with both homes secure