There’s a chance that the Vancouver Canucks could come out of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft with the best defenceman available, even though they’re picking 11th overall.
Just once in the entire history of the NHL draft has there been a top-ten without a defenceman getting picked.
It happened 40 years ago in 1983, when it took 14 picks for the first defenceman to come off the board — Bobby Dollas to the Winnipeg Jets. There just weren’t many high-end defencemen in that draft class. Just three defencemen from the 1983 draft ever played in an NHL All-Star Game — Garry Galley, Uwe Krupp, and Alexei Kasotonov — and they were picked in the 5th, 11th, and 12th rounds.
Is Reinbacher this draft’s Seider?
There are definitely high-end defencemen in the 2023 draft class but none that have lept out and demanded to be made a top-ten pick compared to the plethora of talented forwards. That means there’s a chance the Canucks will have their pick of defencemen when they step up to the stage in Nashville.
If that happens, the Canucks will be able to select from several right-handed defencemen who are expected to go in that range: Axel Sandin Pellikka, Dimitri Simashev, or David Reinbacher.
There’s a growing consensus that the latter, David Reinbacher, is the best defenceman in the draft. The 6’2” Reinbacher has earned comparisons to Moritz Seider not just because of his comparable style of play but because of his similar situation in his draft year.
Like Seider, Reinbacher spent his draft year playing against men in what’s considered to be a lesser league — Seider in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany and Reinbacher in the National League in Switzerland. Seider was seen as a strong-skating defensive defenceman who was eager to jump up in the rush to contribute offensively but lacked dynamic offensive upside — Reinbacher is much the same.
After he was drafted sixth overall in 2019, Seider took massive steps forward in his development to become a legitimate number-one defenceman for the Detroit Red Wings. That dynamic upside Seider seemingly lacked when he was drafted came out in spades in the subsequent years. He put up 50 points in his rookie year, then avoided a sophomore slump with another solid 42 points in his second season.
Now Reinbacher has teams wondering if he has similar potential to add more offensive production to his already strong defensive game and become more than just a top-four contributor but a number-one defenceman capable of contributing in every situation.
There are enough believers in Reinbacher that he might be off the board by the time Vancouver picks at 11th overall. But, if he’s still available, Reinbacher would make all kinds of sense for the Canucks.
Reinbacher is a high-end play-killer
There are many reasons why Reinbacher would be a fit for the Canucks — he’s big and a right-hand shot, for starters — but the most important is that he has the potential to be a true, modern-day shutdown defenceman with his combination of size and skating.
Reinbacher has the mobility to match the moves of even the most slippery opposing forward, using advanced skating techniques to keep a tight gap so he can use his long reach to disrupt the puck carrier. More than that, Reinbacher uses his skating not just to react but to press the issue, particularly in the neutral zone, where he quickly closes on opponents to limit their time and space and steal the puck before a zone entry can occur.
“As opponents attack through the neutral zone, he gaps up early, builds speed going backward to match that of the puck carrier, takes away the middle of the ice with his stick, and closes with force once he’s registered support,” reads his scouting report from Elite Prospects. “At the net-front, he easily boxes out opponents and wins rebounds and loose pucks with urgency and physicality.”
In the National League, Reinbacher didn’t just play a depth role, but averaged 18:56 per game and regularly played over 20 minutes for EHC Kloten.
“Reinbacher was a difference-maker at every level. He led EHC Kloten’s blue line in total minutes at even strength and escaped with a team-leading plus-five goal differential,” says Elite Prospects.
“He’s just a rock-solid, projectable two-way defenceman,” says The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, while his colleague, Corey Pronman, says, “He's very polished defensively for such a young player, and projects to shut down good NHL forwards.”
That foundation of defence gives Reinbacher a very high ceiling. He’s almost guaranteed to be an NHL player and projects well to play in a team’s top four.
What is Reinbacher’s offensive upside?
The one issue for Reinbacher is his offensive projection. His 22 points in 46 games led all 18-year-old players in the NL by a wide margin — no one else had more than one point — but it’s hard to say what that means for his NHL future as few future NHLers develop in the NL.
In international competition, Reinbacher has looked like he has offensive spark, with some promising rushes up the ice and an ability to get shots through from the point, but he had just 2 points in 5 games at the World Juniors, both of them assists.
Whereas Seider showed a creative, playmaking side that promised more in the future, Reinbacher lacks that creativity in the offensive zone.
“I don’t think he has the ability to trick opponents at the blue line – look left and go right and vice-versa. I don’t think he has that,” said one NHL scout quoted by Elite Prospects.
Reinbacher is also one of the older players in the draft, with an October birthday. Even if that seems like a small thing, it gives him slightly less runway to develop, which can make a difference.
The question mark about Reinbacher’s offensive upside is the only reason why Reinbacher might even be available for the Canucks. A team taking a defenceman in the top ten is looking for a surefire top-pairing game-changer and Reinbacher might be more of a second-pairing play-stopper — valuable, but tough to accept when there are so many dynamic forwards available.
If a team is looking for a defenceman in the top ten, they might lean towards the most dynamic offensive defenceman in the draft, Axel Sandin Pellikka, over Reinbacher.
Others, however, believe in Reinbacher’s offence.
“His handling is dicey and he’s not the most creative player with the puck, but he’s intelligent and has some developed some habits that should allow him to take advantage of his considerable tools at the next level,” says Elite Prospects.
An ideal top-pairing partner for Hughes?
What makes him so tempting for the Canucks is that he has precisely the skillset they should want in a long-term partner for Quinn Hughes.
While Hughes is better defensively than he gets credit for, Reinbacher has the size and strength to complement Hughes in a top-pairing role. He can win battles in front of the net and along the boards, but is also mobile and agile, shutting down plays with his skating as well as his size.
Most importantly for potentially playing with Hughes, Reinbacher has an excellent transition game.
Early in the season, Reinbacher kept things simple in transition — frequently too simple, looking for just one passing option, then panicking when that option wasn’t available. As he settled into his role in the NL and among his peers at the World Junioers, Reinbacher developed patience and poise with the puck and showed an ability to not just make a good first pass but to make high-end transition plays: stretch passes, deception-laden fakes and reverses, and quick moves to get past the first forechecker.
A mobile defensive defenceman who can also transition the puck, taking some of that burden off Hughes? That sounds like a match made in heaven.
Even if Reinbacher’s offensive game does not develop as some hope, that wouldn’t preclude him from playing a top-pairing role in Vancouver.
Unfortunately, all of those attributes that would make him a fit for the Canucks may also result in him not being available when it’s their turn to pick.