NHL Talk: Rangers’ Reaves Impressing & Higher Team Expectations

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In this edition of NHL Talk, New York Rangers forward Ryan Reaves is finding success in his first season at Madison Square Garden, and his surging team has even higher expectations for the remainder of the 2021-22 season and beyond.

Reaves Helping Change Rangers’ Culture in First Season in New York

Reaves made headlines around the NHL on Wednesday with a two-goal game in the Rangers’ valiant 6-3 comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The recognition is well deserved for the enforcer, who is putting together a strong season in New York and helping change the culture of the team. Known for his hard-hitting, aggressive play style, Reaves has dropped the gloves twice this season and has 24 penalty minutes.

Ryan Reaves New York Rangers
Ryan Reaves, New York Rangers (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

“The Rangers just don’t get pushed around anymore, which is why he was acquired after year, after year, after year of being beat up,” says THW’s Tom Castro. “He said in a preseason press conference, in the preseason media availability, he formally warned all the teams. He said that everyone is going to be held accountable, and I think from someone like him, that’s going to reverberate through the league. And obviously it has.”

The 35-year-old was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights on July 29, 2021, in exchange for the Rangers’ third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He was brought in to help protect New York’s up-and-coming players on the ice, and is making a great impression on his teammates.

“They’re not being knocked all over the place, but there really is more than that with Reaves,” says Castro. “I think it’s just from his presence. It’s sort of infectious throughout the lineup and with him being there. You see these players, these guys standing up for themselves, for each other more than they used to.”

Reaves’ refusal to be a pushover has found its way throughout the Rangers’ lineup and is inspiring other players to step up when things get chippy.

Ryan Reaves New York Rangers
Ryan Reaves, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“It’s why you’ve seen Jacob Trouba emerges full nasty edge that you saw in Winnipeg that you hadn’t really fully seen until now,” says Castro. “It’s why you see even Adam Fox getting in scrums against Boston a couple of months ago. These guys are now more willing to stand up for each other, one because Reaves is there obviously, but two because he makes it clear that that should be a priority.”

With his contract extension set to expire at the end of next season, his long-term future with the Rangers is up in the air. Chances are, with the way he’s impacting the team so early into his New York tenure, the Rangers will look to lock him up for at least a few more years if they get the opportunity.

“He is a real devastating forechecker,” says Castro. “The Rangers have not had that in a long time, maybe since when they had Sean Avery. So, he goes out there and he’s got opposing players’ heads on a swivel.”

Rangers Showing Improvement, But Have Bigger Expectations Going Forward

The Rangers are fourth in the NHL and first in the Metropolitan Division with a strong 26-10-4 record. Riding a three-game win streak, the team is on fire right now. As one of just five NHL teams this seasons with less than 100 goals allowed (99), New York is one of the league’s teams to beat. The Rangers seem destined for the postseason, but still have some improvements to make and another 42 games left to play.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“They’re going to have to be better at 5-on-5,” says Castro. “[Goaltender Igor] Shesterkin has really disguised some of that. At this point, he’s stolen a number of games. This is a player who’s going to be a Vezina [Trophy] finalist and somehow didn’t make the All-Star team.”

Shesterkin is putting together a fantastic season, with a .938 save percentage (SV%) across 24 games and 23 starts. He has managed to bail New York out of some tough games, but is not the only reason the Rangers are finding success.

“They’ve had really exceptional special teams, very good power play, although it has fallen off a little bit lately, and they kill penalties really well,” says Castro. “But they there’s a chance that can be improved.”

The Rangers have the 10th-best power-play percentage in the NHL at 22.8 percent, and third-best penalty kill at 85.2 percent. The special teams units have been major factors in the Rangers’ success, and a few players on the team are having the best seasons of their careers.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“They’ve only got a few players that are having these career seasons,” says Castro. “Chris Kreider is obviously one of them. He’s had an incredible season. Twenty-five goals. Grown into the player that the Rangers always thought he would become. Adam Fox, the reigning Norris Trophy winner. He’s had a great season, another monster season, which again was predictable, and Shesterkin has been great as well.”

Things are looking great for the Rangers right now, but time will tell if they can maintain success. Their strong play this season gives optimism for a bright future in New York, as it continues its mission of putting together a Stanley Cup-contending roster.

Related: NHL Talk: Devils’ Hughes & Mercer, Wild’s Rossi & Kaprizov

“They’re not going to get mentioned among some of the other top Stanley Cup contenders,” says Castro. “But, the raw material is there. The ability is there with an experienced coach and some experienced players. And if they continue to get better here over the next however many games going into the playoffs, it could be a fun run for them if they can keep everything together and continue to trend upwards as they’ve been doing really since the beginning of the season.”

Thank you for reading this edition of NHL Talk, and make sure to listen to THW Podcast every weekday (Monday to Friday) to hear everything your favourite hockey writers have to say about the hottest topics around the league.

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