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Brace Yourself: Ryan Reaves is Coming

Jim Rutherford’s indictment of the league was clearly stated, and he followed through on his promise to get tougher. It’s simple, really, if the league isn’t taking care of their stars, guys like Ryan Reaves will have to give it a go.

My take was simple. Go for it, add toughness, as long as the guy can actually play hockey.

They may or may not have accomplished exactly that.

Ryan Reaves Isn’t Tom Sestito

There’s a large majority of Penguins fans that cringe at the word enforcer, and a few media types too. Count me into that group, as the idea that teams need a big, slow, unskilled individual to play the role of a police officer on the ice is dated. It’s archaic and if you look at some of the injuries and dirty plays that occur with these guys ‘policing’ things, it’s evident that it simply isn’t effective.

Interestingly, those that are quick to praise hockey players for their sacrifices, their toughness, and their self-endangering mindsets that drive these guys to put their bodies on the line each and every night are the same ones who think these same players would change their game in fear of being beaten up. It’s as if Brandon Dubinsky is going to see Reaves on the Penguins bench and tell head coach John Tortorella that he doesn’t feel like he can harass Sidney Crosby because, well, he might get punched.

Spoiler alert: They don’t care. And having Reaves won’t deter anything. It doesn’t mean Pittsburgh shouldn’t hit back, though. And maybe, just maybe, Reaves can pay a little attention to opponents’ stars that will garner attention from their coaching staff and a message that liberties on Crosby means their top guys will pay a price too. Kinda like the old days, when Rick Tocchet was the message sender.

More importantly, Reaves has the potential to give the Penguins an asset they haven’t had in recent seasons. At least, not to this extent. You can’t ignore the impact Chris Kunitz had upon returning to postseason play and relentlessly banging bodies against a Washington Capitals team that was having their way with Pittsburgh in that department. He was one of the few Penguins returning the favor, throwing 23 hits through their seven-game series and his play wasn’t simply chasing, it was effective. Reaves can easily match Kunitz’s legs and foot speed — and if opposing defensemen didn’t like Kunitz barrelling down on them — they’ll really hate when Reaves is the guy forechecking. He’s a tank that’s worked hard on adjusting to today’s game, hoping to add speed and an ability to be more than the stereotypical enforcer.

Everyone will notice quickly that he isn’t Tom Sestito. He might actually surprise you.

Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan has a knack for finding the right fits within his lineup. Sullivan, as well as Rutherford and the rest of Pittsburgh’s staff, couldn’t be happier about this acquisition. A team fresh off back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships isn’t going to jeopardize their way of playing and ruin their chances at a three-peat. Let’s give this staff a chance to utilize Reaves in an effective manner. They’ve earned at least that much.

Was the price seemingly high? Maybe. Am I a fan of enforcers in hockey? No. But they see something they like in Reaves. It’s possible, everyone else will too and if you’re reading this — and you deny how much you’ll enjoy seeing Reaves give Tom Wilson a taste of what he’s given the Penguins for so long — you’re lying to yourself. Fitting him into the Penguins’ high-speed, skill-based offense will be an interesting experiment and one worth watching.

By the Numbers

Reaves’ numbers prior to joining the Penguins are underwhelming at best, especially his underlying numbers commonly used to gauge puck possession and territorial play. The Blues accounted for a hair over 48-percent of shot attempts with Reaves on the ice at even strength — as well as his common linemates, Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak — which is alarming for an otherwise solid possession team. This is where the biggest challenge comes in for Sullivan and the Penguins coaching staff. They need to fit him with other individuals that can dictate play.

Of course, deployment is important as well, and Reaves was on the ice for just 86 offensive zone faceoffs at even strength last season — compared to 252 in the defensive zone. That trio wasn’t built to take that many faceoffs in their own zone and still generate shots.

Reaves’ seven goals in 2016-17 was a career high, and the way he scored those goals should make the Penguins and their fans very happy. He boasted a shot-percentage just north of 12-percent, which was very close to his usual output and the visual below — courtesy of HockeyViz.Com — sums up where he makes his money when provided offensive zone time.

He’s going to create traffic in front and score ugly goals. He’s a larger version of Patric Hornqvist in that territory — though not as skilled, of course — and should be able to cash in on Pittsburgh’s sustained pressure and high shot volumes. Again, deployment and linemates will be crucial for getting the most out of the 230-pound aggressor, but it’s tough to doubt Sullivan’s ability to put his players in a position to succeed at this point.

Acquiring Reaves was expensive, though Oskar Sundqvist — sent to St. Louis in this deal — has a much lower ceiling than most like to admit. If Reaves doesn’t pan out, the Penguins are no worse for wear and ultimately, a fourth liner that can bang bodies like Reaves and possibly contribute is a worthwhile gamble. Pittsburgh fans should be willing to give him a shot and Pittsburgh’s opponents will need to brace themselves: They’re going to get pushed back this season.

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Jayden Cole at Blush
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Karyn

    June 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

    You’re lucky to get Reaves. He’s a huge fan favorite in St. Louis, not only because he does come to the defense of his teammates when needed, and gets under the skin of his opponents, but also because he is a great player to have in the locker room. He’s fantastic for team morale; positive attitude, always smiling and upbeat. He’s a fun player to watch, and he works hard. St. Louis will definitely feel his loss; there’s a reason he was protected in the Vegas draft over Perron. He’s been my favorite for years, and is the only player whose name and number I’ve ever worn.

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