With less than 10 minutes remaining in the Florida Panther's battle with the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, Sam Reinhart took a Carter Verhaege pass in the slot and wired it past Cam Talbot for a goal.
The tally didn't ultimately matter in that game as the Panthers were unable to complete a comeback in a 2-1 loss, but it was significant in that it tied Reinhart with Auston Matthews for the NHL goal lead. It's not an exaggeration to say the 28-year-old is off to a monster start to his 2023-24 season.
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While Reinhart has been a reliable offensive producer in recent seasons, these aren't the type of results he typically produces — even over a relatively small sample.
According to Dom Luszczyszyn's "Game Score" metric, Reinhart has been the top skater in the NHL and leads the league in Hockey-Reference's Offensive Point Shares metric. Those might exaggerate his value to some degree, but it's an illustration of just how strong his start has been.
Reinhart's goal scoring is particularly surprising considering he entered 2023-24 coming off six seasons with between 22 and 33 goals. That's been good enough to place him 29th in the NHL in goal-scoring during that time, but he's more accustomed to sitting amongst guys like Bo Horvat and Anders Lee on the leaderboard, not Matthews.
Some of what we're seeing is shooting percentage magic. Reinhart simply isn't going to score on 26% of his shots from here on out, though his career mark of 14.5% is well above average. Even so, he's producing higher shots per game (3.13) and shots/60 marks (8.9) than he's ever managed before. He'll only need 0.32 goals per game from here on out to set a career-high, which isn't much to ask considering his career pace is 0.33 and he hasn't been below 0.38 since 2019-20.
It's also worth noting that Reinhart is getting more ice time than he's ever had before (20:57) and playing alongside Aleksander Barkov at 5v5 — a significant difference from last season when he spent most of his ice time with Anton Lundell as his center. Not only will that help the winger's offensive numbers, it also positions him well to produce excellent possession metrics and help bolster his reputation after earning downballot Selke Trophy votes in each of the last two seasons.
All of that means that Reinhart is heading towards an absolutely monster payday.
The veteran will hit unrestricted free agency following the 2023-24 season and he currently leads all prospective UFAs in goals and points, coming behind just Elias Lindholm in ice time among forwards. The upcoming class isn't short on offensive producers with Reinhart and Lindholm joined by names like William Nylander, Jake Guentzel, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Toffoli, but Reinhart looks poised to stand out from the crowd in a way that felt far from certain entering the season.
Prior to 2023-24, the winger had one outstanding point producing season (82 in 2021-22), but more often than not he'd produced goal scoring in the 20s and point totals in the 50s or 60s. That's first-line level production, and paired with his responsible defensive play and relative youth it made for an appealing package. That said, if he produced approximately at that level in 2023-24, it would be easy for teams to see his one 82-point season as an outlier and not value him like a star.
While his season is far from over, he's got a chance to make point-per-game production look like his new norm, with an outstanding opportunity to produce career-high numbers across the board.
It's not fair to expect him to be alongside guys like Matthews at the top of the goals leaderboard when the season is said and done, but he can expect to be right among the biggest earners when free agency comes around.