'I'm finally here and I'm really excited,' Canadiens prospect Reinbacher says

Montreal’s top pick last year (No. 5 overall) enjoyed his first practise with the Rocket on Tuesday and all the media attention it entailed.

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As the lights from the numerous television cameras shone brightly and a throng of media surrounded him, David Reinbacher had first-hand evidence he’s entering the next stage of his pro hockey career.

When you’re part of the Canadiens’ organization and a first-round draft choice, the attention goes with the territory. Nobody understands this better than Reinbacher, a 19-year-old defenceman who only arrived in Canada on Monday and had his first practice Tuesday with the AHL’s Laval Rocket.

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“A crowd like this is probably normal here,” Reinbacher said after Tuesday morning’s practice at Place Bell. “It’s a crazy hockey world in Montreal. Now I’m finally here and I’m really excited. It’s an exciting time.

“I’m 100 per cent ready,” added the 6-foot-2, 209-pounder, who was selected fifth overall by the Canadiens last June. “It’s a great opportunity for me to get a good season’s end. I’m excited to be here. It can’t be better … making a playoff push.”

Reinbacher has already had a taste of this hockey-crazed environment. He attended Canadiens training camp in September before management, given the organization’s depth along the blue line, decided another season playing for Kloten HC in the Swiss-A League would better suit his development. Time will tell whether that was the best decision.

In a bid to get bigger and stronger, Reinbacher added weight following his selection. But that might have affected his mobility. He suffered an early-season knee injury, saw his production dip and played for a bad team. Reinbacher scored one empty-net goal while adding 10 assists in 35 games — a decrease from the three goals and 22 points in 46 games a year earlier.

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Kloten, meanwhile, struggled in the standings, going 17-29-6, second-worst in the 14-team league, while going through three head coaches. He hasn’t played in a league game since March 5.

“My season was up and down, but now it’s over and I’m really happy,” Reinbacher admitted. “I’m here, enjoying it and looking forward to the game on Friday.

“It was a good decision to send me back,” the Austrian native added. “You can take all the positives out of it. There’s nothing wrong, if you look at it that way and take the positive things out of it. I matured a lot. I made mistakes that I can learn from. You can’t say I’d be farther ahead, because I didn’t play here. It was a good experience over there. I played a lot of defensive zone, which is nice. You can develop there, too. But now it’s over.”

While it was only one practice, Reinbacher was teamed with veteran Tobie Paquette-Bisson on Tuesday. Paquette-Bisson, 27 and a Rocket assistant captain, had been playing with rookie Logan Mailloux, another former first-round draft choice, this season.

“To be honest, he has good feet and talks a lot,” Paquette-Bisson said. “I think he has good composure. He’s a pretty big guy. For him, it’s just a question of playing simple, seeing how the first game goes. I think he’ll do pretty good.”

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Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle traditionally doesn’t rush newcomers into the lineup following their arrival. But Laval (27-25-8) is chasing a playoff berth, three points behind both Toronto and Belleville, with only 12 games remaining. The coach might have no choice but to throw Reinbacher into the fire, sooner rather than later. And the fact he was immediately teamed with Paquette-Bisson probably spoke volumes.

Houle was noncommittal.

“We have another practice (Wednesday) and don’t play until Friday (at Belleville),” Houle said. “The Canadiens play two more games before we even play, and we all know in the AHL our plans could fluctuate quite a bit. If we can get him in the lineup we will. We think he can help. We’ll give him a little bit of time here with practices, but for sure we’re going to give him some (playing) time to see what he can do.

“It was a hard practice today and he did well. I liked him at rookie camp. I think he’s in a good frame of mind. We’re happy to have him here. You’ve just got to go out there and play. We’re not going to talk to him too much. We’ll go through our structure, but we want him to play free … play off your instincts. Good players just play. That’s just what he’s going to do.”

Reinbacher knows the learning curve is steep and it will take time for him to get adjusted to the smaller ice surface and increased physical play. “It’s a dream come true to one day play in the NHL,” he said. “I’ll try to settle in the next couple of days and be ready for Friday.”

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