After thriving against men while playing in the Swiss National League, David Reinbacher is on track to be the top defenceman picked in next week's NHL draft.
"That would be incredible," Reinbacher said. "But, it's out of my hands. The teams will decide which defenceman goes first. There are some other good ones like Axel Sandin Pellikka and Tom Willander."
Reinbacher, who produced 22 points in 46 games with Kloten, was the first blueliner on Bob McKenize's final list of top prospects, which is based on a survey of scouts. He came in No. 8 while Skelleftea's Sandin Pellikka was the next defenceman at No. 14.
Reinbacher was also the first defenceman off the board in the final mock draft by TSN director of scouting Craig Button, who has him going No. 8 to the Washington Capitals. Button has Sandin Pellikka going No. 10 to the St. Louis Blues and Boston University commit Willander going No. 11 to the Vancouver Canucks.
Whatever the order ends up being, Reinbacher is set to become the first Austrian-born defenceman ever picked in the first round.
"I can't describe this feeling," the 18-year-old said with a big smile. "It's something special. A lot of kids will look up to me so I got to be their role model and show them it's possible to get from Austria to the NHL draft and be as high as possible. I can give them some belief."
During a conversation with TSN, Reinbacher reflected on his path from the town of Hohenems, Aut. (population of 15,200) to the NHL draft and explained why Nashville Predators captain Roman Josi is his role model. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TSN: What's your hometown like?
Reinbacher: It's a lot of green fields, a lot of farmers and a lot of animals. It's green a lot. Some nice rivers so perfect nature.
TSN: How did you become a hockey player?
Reinbacher: It was my brother. He started with hockey and I always wanted to be like him. I always looked up to him. When he started I told my dad, 'I want to start too.' So, he was my inspiration through the years.
TSN: How excited are people back home about what you're doing?
Reinbacher: Really. All my friends, all my family, they are getting so excited for Wednesday. Everyone is behind me and so proud of me. They just want to see the results now. My coach is coming to the draft. It's a huge community behind me, supporting me and wishing me all the best.
TSN: Which coach is coming?
Reinbacher: Jeff Tomlinson, my head coach from the last two years, and GM Larry Mitchell is also coming. It's unreal that they are coming. It's such a great feeling.
TSN: Do you have any memories of watching the draft growing up?
Reinbacher: For sure. I watched [countrymen] Marco Kasper and Marco Rossi. There's so much video so I can see how the guys get drafted. Honestly, before our interview I looked at Moritz Seider getting drafted. It's something special. It's once in a lifetime so you got to enjoy the ride and just have fun.
TSN: What are you doing to wear? Anything special?
Reinbacher: I'll wear a suit with a hat on like all NHL players have. Dark blue suit with brown shoes and a normal tie.
TSN: Do you usually wear a hat?
Reinbacher: That's special for the draft. I got one made for me from a company in Switzerland. Thanks to them for the hat. I'm really looking forward to rocking this hat at the draft.
TSN: Who was your favourite player growing up?
Reinbacher: For sure Thomas Vanek. He's the best ever hockey player from Austria so every kid looks up to him. He's the role model in hockey for Austria. He kind of compares to Arnold Schwarzenegger (smile). He's one of the biggest guys there.
TSN: How would you describe your game?
Reinbacher: A two-way defenceman. A break-out defenceman who tries to feed the offensive guys. I have a good, long stick. I'm calm with the puck with good break outs. A good skater, who tries to create offensive chances if there's a hole to get into it. That's my playing style.
TSN: Who is your NHL role model?
Reinbacher: Roman Josi. I like his two-way style. He's good in every zone. He is the most complete NHL defenceman. He can play offence and if he creates chances there he can score. He's also good in the defensive zone and can stop plays. He can break out with the puck and he can skate out with the puck. Yeah, a good all-rounder.
TSN: What allowed you to have success against older players in the National League?
Reinbacher: You got to be a good competitor there and give 150 per cent every shift to try and battle against those guys because it's hard. They're stronger and faster than you so you got to be a competitive guy. My teammates helped me a lot. It's much easier to play with the first line and with import guys who have a lot of experience that can teach me well, so that made my life easier.
TSN: Where did you improve the most as the season progressed?
Reinbacher: I would say breaking out from the zone, carrying the pick to the offensive zone and giving the pass out to the offensive guys. My passing and break outs improved a lot.
TSN: What changed?
Reinbacher: Not much. I guess it was the confidence I got from my team and from my coaches. They trusted me and gave me big minutes to play in such a good league. So, I guess it came from there.
TSN: What did you take from the World Championship?
Reinbacher: It was an unreal experience. You play against NHL players who have won Stanley Cups and players who had good careers so you can learn a lot from their mature games. Everyone knows his role and what to do. You can see where you're standing and where you have to improve. Thanks to the coaches who gave me a chance to play at such a young age. It's incredible.
TSN: What do you have to improve?
Reinbacher: My strength has got to be better to play in the NHL. My lower-body strength. And then, for sure, my offensive game. I got to create more chances and be calm with the puck. I would say those two things.
TSN: Who is the toughest player you faced?
Reinbacher: Lucas Raymond. He's so good in the corners. He's quick. He's got a good stance on the ice. He can shoot the puck and has some pretty good hands so it's hard to play against his skill-set.
TSN: You logged 23 minutes in the final game, a win against Hungary, after earlier suffering a knee injury. How did you get through it?
Reinbacher: It was hard because I had to play with a brace and there was still pain, but I really enjoyed it. I had to help the team reach our goal. We have to stay in this division. It was a big accomplishment for our team and for Austria to stay another year in the top division.
TSN: You were busy off the ice as well this season. As part of the program at the United School of Sports in Zurich you had a job as a headhunter. What was that like?
Reinbacher: You have two years of school and then you go two years to work to do a job. For me school is a big thing. You should have something in your pocket. My dad always said, 'You got to do something besides hockey. You never know when you're ending.' So, I started with it and I kind of like it. It's something different to hockey and you get your mind off it. It's a different world. You work in a normal world where all the other people work so you see new positions, new learnings so it's kind of fun.
TSN: What makes a good headhunter?
Reinbacher: I would say your network. You have to know people because if you know a lot of people then they know a lot of people and there's your network and you can get the people for your projects.
TSN: At the combine it was the NHL executives and scouts doing the headhunting. You spoke to 23 teams. What was the toughest question?
Reinbacher: It's World War II and you're the captain of a boat and you have to bomb an enemy boat, but teammates are swimming in the ocean. I said, 'No, I wouldn't do it because I want to save my teammates.' I'm like, 'Look, guys, I don't do it because they are my teammates so I wouldn't kill my teammates.' They were like, 'You have to do it. It's an order.' I was like, 'No, I won't do it.' So, it was kind of not the best thing to talk about.
TSN: What was the conversation like with the Montreal Canadiens, who pick No. 5?
Reinbacher: It was normal. Its was good. I really enjoyed it to get to know the people there. Good chemistry. Normal questions. Thank you for that.
TSN: What would it be like to play in Canada in the NHL?
Reinbacher: My thought is it'd be getting pretty cold (smile). Something different than Switzerland, but it would be an incredible feeling. Any team that drafts me, it'd be a huge honour. Just enjoy the ride now.