What the heck: Reinbacher reintroduced to Montreal pressures

The defender hasn’t even played a game in Laval yet and one sports presenter is already suggesting the Austrian great could be a flop.

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People often say that Montreal is the toughest pressure cooker on the market for professional hockey players, and if you doubt that, just look at what’s happened so far with David Reinbacher.

The 19-year-old Austrian defenseman was selected fifth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in last year’s draft and immediately, the reaction from a good portion of the Habs fan base was quite negative. There was some booing from the crowd in Nashville when his name was called. That day he was at McLean’s Pub downtown shooting video and Canadiens fans were visibly surprised that CH managers Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes chose the European blue-liner. Clearly many fans wanted the team, which has been notably short of scoring stars for decades, to opt for flashy Russian winger Matvei Michkov, who was still available at the time.

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This, of course, is just as intense, or is it absolutely crazy? – Fan base that included people who actually booed Juraj Slafkovsky when he walked into the Bell Center for the 2022 draft, the day the CH ended up taking the big Slovakian winger with the team’s first overall pick. There were Canadiens fans wearing Shane Wright jerseys that day, a tribute to the guy who for months had been touted as the likely No. 1 pick.

That Slaf story shows how wrong you can be in judging draft picks. After a difficult first season that ended with an injury, Slafkovsky has become arguably the Habs’ most exciting story this season and it now seems clear that he will be a very good power forward.

Last summer’s controversy surrounding Reinbacher soon turned ugly, and the young man was the target of thousands of hateful messages, showing the uglier side of 21st century sports fan culture.

Now he finally arrived this week in Montreal (OK, Laval) to play hockey and was greeted to the city with yet another controversy, this one coming from the very opinionated host of TVA Sports. Jean-Charles Lajoie. Reinbacher arrived in Canada on Monday and had his first practice with the Laval Rocket on Tuesday morning, with a throng of reporters turning out to get a look at the much-talked-about prospect.

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Meanwhile, many people in town were talking about Lajoie’s column that included the headline: David Reinbacher: A ‘Bust’?

If you read Lajoie’s column to the end, which frankly most people screaming and yelling on social media don’t, you’ll see that he doesn’t actually say outright that Reinbacher is a failure. But he does say that he believes the Canadians made a mistake in electing him.

“In short, the Canadiens took the best player available with the fifth overall pick in 2023? No.” Lajoie writes.

There was no shortage of those who attacked Lajoie from the column, which is absurd. Lajoie has every right to his opinion and the fact is that it will take us years to find out if Gorton and Hughes are right or if the anti-Reinbachers are the smarter ones. The reality is that if No. 7 pick Michkov becomes a scoring stud with the Philadelphia Flyers or No. 8 pick Ryan Leonard does the same with the Washington Capitals, and Reinbacher turns out to be a third or fourth defenseman on the Habs blue. line, then Gorton and Hughes will be judged harshly and rightly.

But, to quote Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.” The boy is 19 years old and has not yet played his first game with the Laval Rocket, so it is too early to know if he will become Roman Josi, his idol, or just another ordinary D-man.

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The good news is that Reinbacher seems to have the personality to deal with the pressure from fans and media here. Meeting with reporters Tuesday, Reinbacher seemed calm, cool and collected, and perhaps most important of all, happy to be here.

“The hockey world in Montreal is crazy,” Reinbacher told reporters. “Now I’m finally here and I’m very excited. “It is an exciting moment.”

And Slafkovsky said he would definitely be in touch with the new kid on the block, telling reporters that he thinks Reinbacher will be fine, once he adjusts to the smaller ice surface and different style of play in the American League. Hockey compared to the Swiss League. A League in which he played this past season.

“He’s probably going to have to get used to playing on a smaller ice surface,” Slafkovsky told TVA Sports’ Anthony Martineau on Tuesday. “He will probably have less time and will certainly be more physical than in Europe, but I feel like he can definitely make the change. And it’s just a matter of a few games until he gets used to it. He is a skilled guy and we also have great coaches who will try to help him every day. He is already the player. He just needs to get used to the ice, get used to the style of play and all that because he’s obviously different from playing in Switzerland. I feel like there’s more time there and there’s more skill, not like the AHL, where they’re just dumber trying to take your head off.”

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Reinbacher could do worse than have some talks with Slafkovsky about how to adjust to the pressures of playing in Montreal. That first day of 2022, as some were booing him, Slafkovsky prophetically said: “Hockey is his passion as well as mine. Maybe some of them don’t like me. But I will do everything I can to play well for this team and maybe one day they will like me.”

And guess what? A little less than two years later, fans not only like Slaf, they love him.

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