Ryan Reaves has never met a check that he didn't finish.
From the 6'1" winger's rookie campaign in 2010-11 to now, only three players have averaged over 20 Hits/60 Minutes: Matt Martin (25.93), Zac Rinaldo (24.6), and Reaves (23.93). This is out of 725 qualified skaters with 2000+ 5v5 minutes.
It's certainly interesting company.
"These players, the tough guys in this league, many of them have been rendered obsolete because they can’t play," George McPhee said last night. "This guy can play."
Reaves certainly can play, but the question is, how well?
To answer the question, I rolled the tape on Reaves's recent postseason run with the Blues, mixing in some other past highlights. After all, McPhee asserted, "He was really effective in the playoffs last year."
First, he absolutely can skate. As McPhee noted, "He gets around really well."
He doesn't have a decisive first step, but picks up powerful straight-ahead speed when he gets going. However, there isn't a lot of east-west in his movement, he's strictly north-south.
His speed and relentless physicality does make him an asset on the forecheck; his strength and tenacity also makes him pesky along the boards.
In the zone, Reaves doesn't own a lot of creativity. He does possess a hard, accurate shot. Over his career, he's been a better than above-average shooter: His 11.44 shooting % is 73rd among 447 forwards (2000+ 5v5 minutes). That's better than Jamie Benn, Anze Kopitar, James Neal, and Alex Ovechkin, among others.
So why doesn't Reaves shoot more? The likely answer is he's unable to get to quality scoring areas with regularity. His career 4.38 Shots/60 is 434th out of 447 forwards (2000+ 5v5 minutes).
Regardless, it sounds like an underrated package -- physical, fast, good shot. So why was Reaves a 6:45 ATOI player in Pittsburgh and an eight-minute guy in St. Louis?
I think hockey sense has a lot to do with it. Reaves appears a bit one-track minded. If he knows exactly where he's going, what's he doing, he's nimble enough:
Reaves looks a step behind, trying to process the unexpected.
In all, however, Reaves is a competent defensive forward. He's usually in good position, head on a swivel.
Possession and scoring chance figures don't favor him though; he's certainly not a play-driver. His career -2.28 Relative to Team Corsi For % puts him 387th among 447 forwards; his -0.19 Relative to Team Expected Goals For % puts him 272nd. Regardless, he shouldn't hurt you too much defensively -- an occasional gaffe or unnecessary minor penalty can be balanced out by other contributions.
My main concern is if Reaves will flourish in Gerard Gallant's up-tempo transition attack. While indeed, he can skate, the counterattack is more than just foot speed. Neal and David Perron are terrific examples of that -- neither are speedy, but they have the soft hands to keep the fastest thing on the ice (the puck) humming. In that department, I have questions about the Knights' latest acquisition:
In all fairness to Reaves, it's hard to judge these plays in a vacumn; everybody makes mistakes. Especially the puck bobble after receiving the pass -- who knows about ice conditions and pass quality there.
But from what I've seen, Reaves has some issues with these non-skating transition skills.
These types of plays aren't small ones; they're the kind of plays which have held Reaves back from more responsibility. That puck bobble allows the defense to set themselves, instead of bracing for a counterattack. That unforced missed breakout cedes possession.
Ryan Wilson, HockeyBuzz's Pittsburgh writer, has a sterner rebuke, "I think it's a bad fit. If he's in your lineup as a contender, you aren't doing your due diligence."
It's worth noting that Reaves did not seem to fit the Penguins' transition game -- which isn't too dissimilar to the Knights'.
So I have questions, and Reaves will start answering them soon. Gerard Gallant emphasized, when asked about the newest Golden Knight, "We all know what he can do, but we want him to be a good hockey player first."
Hopefully, that's the standard without compromise. As we've seen this year with Vegas and their ability to roll four lines, if a guy plays just ten minutes, they better be quality minutes.
If that's still the case, I have no issue with adding Reaves and a fourth-round pick at the cost of cap space and a marginal prospect in Tobias Lindberg. He has some real attributes as a player and is certainly capable of good games from time to time. His intimidation factor, which I can't judge, seems to matter to other players.
There have been complaints of Reaves taking ice time from better players, but we haven't seen any definitive proof of that just yet. Keep in mind there isn't a roster limit after the Trade Deadline too -- so Reaves won't necessarily be taking Tomas Hyka's spot, for example. Reaves also looks like a positive addition to the room, who won't carp even if he's scratched a lot. He should be solid depth.
"If there are opportunities to make the club a little bit better -- one percent, two percent, three percent -- you do it if it’s not going to affect chemistry and if you’re not going to take anything out of the lineup," stated McPhee.
Used selectively, I think Reaves can make the Golden Knights a little bit better.
Amidst Reaves Mania, Vegas vaporized Vancouver 6-3.
With about five minutes left in the opening frame, the Golden Knights were lucky to be down only 2-1. The Canucks had outchanced them 11-2 at evens up to this point, taking advantage of loose gaps and worse puck management. But then, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson stepped up:
Karlsson beats Nikolay Goldobin -- who doesn't keep his feet moving -- to the Brayden McNabb dump-in. Alex Edler chases Smith; there are three Canucks in the vicinity, but nobody minds Karlsson. And just look at the timing of Smith's return pass to the Swedish sniper -- the second that Erik Gudbranson decides he has to chase Smith to the other side of the net, raising his stick in the process, Smith slides a pass through the vacated area.
"I was just trying to find some space," said Smith. "Just tried to get it to [Karlsson] before going around the net."
This was the first of four unanswered goals by the Knights.
Hyka flashed his trademark quickness on his first NHL goal.
What also stood out was his well-placed shot into Anders Nilsson's six-hole and Cody Eakin engaging Philip Holm in front, which cleared the way for Hyka to swoop in unattended.
Vegas found its footing in the middle frame. Of course, Vancouver taking its foot off the pedal had something to do with it. Look at Karlsson outhustle Brock Boeser for the Swede's second of the night, which made it 3-2:
Hopefully, this is a teaching moment for the star rookie.
"We played a little cleaner with the puck. We tried to limit their time and space," noted Smith. "If you can get on them quick, you can force them to turn the puck over. I think we did a better job of doing that and having a quick transition."
Here's an example of this:
Jon Merrill turns Thomas Vanek over, David Perron hits Tomas Nosek, and it's 5-2.
Like I said, it was rough first period for the home team. Perhaps in reaction, Gallant moved Erik Haula to the fourth line with Oscar Lindberg and Stefan Matteau, while elevating Nosek with Perron and Alex Tuch.
Indeed, Haula's puck management was sloppy in the first. While Gallant wouldn't point solely to the Finn's play as the reason for the change, he did concede that some poor play was a cause.
"I want guys playing well. I want our lines playing well," asserted Gallant. "It's always not about the individual player. Sometimes, you have to make a little bit of a change. That's what I've done the last two games."