One look at a healthy Vegas Golden Knights depth chart will cause any opponent to quiver. The team is a juggernaut. Firstly, they’re stacked at center, with Jack Eichel running the roost at that position. Their top wingers, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, have the talent to dominate sports highlight packages on broadcasting networks across the continent. The blue line is patrolled by powerhouse names like Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore. If you happen to squeeze past the Knights’ rearguards, the towering Robin Lehner, who was a Vezina finalist in 2018-19, will be a serious problem for you.
Fantastic, so we’ll see you in the Bellagio Fountain in June to celebrate the Cup, right? Not so fast.
Reaves is the Beast in the East
Far from the bright lights of Vegas, across the country, is the other city that never sleeps – New York. The “Big Apple” is now the new stomping ground for the top heavyweight in the NHL, Ryan Reaves.
In July 2021, the Golden Knights traded him to the New York Rangers for a 2022 third-round pick. The “Blueshirts” subsequently signed him to a one-year contract extension worth 1.75 million. Many people will tell you that the Rangers overpaid. Others will say that the deal was insubstantial. Considering what he offers as a hockey player, I believe that New York gleefully skipped away with a huge discount – the type of markdown we are more accustomed to seeing for things like Christmas lights on Boxing Day.
Attention, NHL coaches: Do your players seem to be coming down with nasty colds the night before a matchup with the Rangers? It’s not a coincidence. Nobody wants to play against Reaves. He’s a one-man wrecking crew. In his four seasons with Vegas, he piled up a bone-crushing 837 hits. In that same timeframe, he accumulated 158 penalty minutes (PIM). Comparing his time in the box in those four years to previous seasons suggests that he has become more responsible and picks his battles more thoughtfully. Taking his overall reputation into account, it goes without saying that he is the undisputed “Beast of the East” and maybe even the entire league. But hits and penalty minutes are only two examples of the freight that’s on the back of this train.
If you haven’t already had a chance, watch the fight between Reaves and Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Pezzetta. I’d suggest watching it two or three times. Really take in what’s happening. How does Reaves carry himself during the fight? What kind of energy is created both during the fight and after it’s over? What emotions do you see in the faces of his teammates on the bench?
Well, Reaves’ arms are dangling loosely by his side as the tilt begins, while Pezzetta is in a tense fighting stance. Reaves easily dismantles Pezzetta’s defense and quickly wins the fight convincingly. He’s clearly fired up. “Swagger” is the word that describes him best after the bout, and it’s visibly radiating from the Rangers bench too. As a team, at that moment, they appear as if nobody can touch them – as if they’re invincible. That is what the former Golden Knight can offer to a franchise – and it’s precisely what Vegas needs this season to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize, a Stanley Cup.
Reaves: The Missing Ingredient in Vegas
I can’t think of a player in the NHL who provides more bang for your buck than Reaves – no pun intended. With his economical cap hit, what he offers is priceless. Elements like “swagger” and rock-solid confidence are attributes that teams can absorb and begin to exude. This can become an identity, and it’s the type of identity needed to be an ultra-successful hockey team.
Back to the desert. The Golden Knights are close to submitting the development plans for a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital that will be large enough to admit their entire roster. I’m joking. But in all seriousness, Vegas’ injuries are painting a picture of a delicate team. Seven Golden Knights are currently unavailable to play, including Eichel, Pacioretty, Marchessault, Mike Amadio, William Karlsson, Will Carrier and Nolan Patrick. How does this relate to Reaves? In indirect but important ways.
Have you ever had an injury that’s kept you off your feet? How do you feel when you’re finally back at it? It generally takes a while to feel truly comfortable again and really have that utmost confidence around exerting yourself without hesitation. Vegas players can count on more spacing and less nonsense on the ice with Reaves in your ranks. Opposing teams will think carefully before taking a cheap shot or putting a little extra pepper on a hit. This will allow returning Vegas players to feel more comfortable as they’re re-acclimating to the rigors of NHL games. Having players like Eichel, Pacioretty and Marchessault feeling confident quickly is key to success beyond the regular season. The sooner the Golden Knights can begin to start clicking, the better.
Also, though Vegas has plenty of leaders, they’re seemingly not deep in the “glue-guy” category. What do I mean by that? A “glue-guy” is essentially somebody who brings the team together. He’s the guy who plans team parties or dinners, keeps guys relaxed and loose, and provides leadership in pivotal moments. This type of player is foundational to any Cup-aspiring roster. Reaves is that guy.
Think about all you’re getting for his current price tag. Have you ever seen one of those Medieval scrolls? How when they’re read, they unravel and hit the floor? That would be suitable for Reaves’ repertoire of assets. He brings ferocious physicality, veteran experience, leadership presence, energy, swagger and even the odd assist and goal. He also has “glue-guy” written all over him. Ultimately, by re-acquiring him, the Golden Knights would procure a subtle yet crucial missing piece. Yes, Vegas is not in an ideal salary cap situation, and it would take some creative maneuvering, but McCrimmon can make it happen. In fact, he desperately needs to make it happen.
And hey, it’s not like this would be a high-stakes experiment. Reaves had tremendous success on the “Meat Grinder” fourth line in Vegas over his four years there.
This is a matter of recognizing what has worked in the past and integrating that with what will be needed in the desert going forward. Let’s bring him back, Vegas.
Christian is from Vancouver, B.C. He is a contributor to the Vegas Golden Knights. Christian completed both his history degree and his education degree at the University of British Columbia. He currently works as a high school history teacher. Christian spends his spare time watching, researching and writing about hockey.