Can Griffin Reinhart upgrade the New York Islanders' defense in 2013?
That is the whole of the question for his bid to make the team. It's not really whether he's ready to play against NHLers (he probably is), and it's not whether he has more to learn (he certainly does). Rather, it's whether he looks good enough and ready enough to take a regular role on the blueline that should grow, rather than regress, as the season wears on.
Fortunately for the Islanders, they also have the infamous nine-game window in which to further evaluate him, if they so choose, after his thus-far-impressive camp. (At the 10 games played mark, the first year of the contract for a player his age fully kicks in, so a team best be sure they intend to keep using him at that point.)
The Islanders' recent history indicates there's not much unusual about Reinhart (as well as fellow WHLer Ryan Pulock) still being in camp so far:
Still, they shouldn't keep Reinhart to be a sixth/seventh defenseman who only gets in the lineup here and there, right? That's the general thinking on this topic around the league.
Here is Oilers coach Dallas Eakins, who had a 15-year career as an AHLer and frequent NHL callup as a player, and who has seen a lot of prospects in that role and as an AHL coach, regarding Edmonton's 2013 pick Darnell Nurse, who the Oilers sent back to juniors Tuesday [bold emphasis mine]:
So a mix of on-ice and off-ice things, with the overarching theme being: This is a complicated decision.
Eakins echoes the common view that long periods of sitting out isn't good for a player who could be mowing down all-situation minutes in juniors (to say nothing of the contract slide). He also is one of the believers in other factors in the decision, including leadership opportunities (including the World Junior Championship) among the player's peers.
For Reinhart the smart money is of course on an eventual return to Edmonton of the WHL for one more year. But he does look like a guy who might already excel in protected minutes. If he gets a nine-game trial, and if he shows himself to be so far ahead of the other competitors, or if there is a major injury on the blueline, then just maybe...
It's still a tough scenario to see happening:
Basically, as projected this summer, the cards don't line up for Reinhart to be an NHL regular this year. But in this camp he's given them something to think about. And that thinking might extend a little while into the regular season.