It has been over a week since the New York Rangers announced Ryan Reaves was acquired from a swap with the Vegas Golden Knights. As the details trickled out, we learned the Rangers coughed up a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The news broke after the Free Agency signing of gritty six-foot-six defenseman Jarred Tinordi. The organization also obtained grinder Barclay Goodrow from the Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Sammy Blais from the St. Louis Blues.
The motive here is obvious. However, it is not a knee-jerk reaction following the end of the 2020-21 season altercation with the controversial Washington Capital member, Tom Wilson. Many people tend to believe these smart acquisitions disrupt the course the team was taking, but these moves only ensure it.
Now, the Rangers have not been a physically challenging team to play against for some while. There has not been a name in the lineup that would make the typical NHL player think twice about testing, but there is now.
Reaves, who played under newly appointed head coach Gerard Gallant in Vegas for the part of three seasons, will be the enforcer the team needs to keep the young talent trending upwards. This is not an eccentric logic that was thought up overnight. The Rangers tried to coax Reaves to New York in previous years (from ‘Rangers trade for Golden Knights’ enforcer Ryan Reaves’, New York Post, 7/30/2021). For seasons, the Blueshirts were exposed by their softer side.
Look at what the Toronto Maple Leafs did when they borrowed Matt Martin from the New York Islanders to put up a barrier between hard-nosed players and the developing talent of Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews for the 2016-17 to 2017-18 seasons.
Essentially, these front office moves should be appreciated, not criticized. The Rangers are still a very young team, and fortifying the team with toughness does disrupt the direction the team was trending in. Acquiring Tinordi and Goodrow, who bring their own skill sets, means Reaves will not have to take on the tough-guy role himself, though he would gladly take it. To further unpack the argument, a look at Reaves’ career is a sensical place to start.
Reaves by the Numbers
Just to preface, Reaves is not the player to put up amazing point totals, but he is your guy if you are looking for that edge. In 686 career games played, the Winnipeg-born forward collected 101 points (49 goals, 52 assists) since he joined the league in 2010-11. He started with the St. Louis Blues, who drafted him in 2005.
Reaves remained a Blue until he was shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a singular season in 2017-18. After a stop in Steel City, he headed to Sin City to join the Knights for the 2017-18 season. During his time as a Knight, Reaves played in 209 contests where he registered 42 points and 158 penalty minutes.
He had a career season in Vegas with 20 points in 2018-19 and his second-best season the year after with 15 points. Both of Reaves’ best seasons were under Gallant, though the 2019-20 season ended under replaced head coach Pete DeBoer.
The 225-pound forward was the main contributor of toughness for the Knights, which explains why their team had a successful combination that led them as far as the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. Grit, scoring, speed, and defense makes up that winning formula and like in Vegas, Gallant has that at his fingertips in New York.
Reaves’ unabashed reputation to keep opponents in line is a welcomed aspect of his game. When in Vegas, Gallant emphasized that defending your teammates is important to the team dynamic, therefore, it should be no surprise there was another push this year to attain Reaves.
The Rangers and the heavyweight are off to a great start beginning with his one-year extension for $1.75 million as he enters the final season of the two-year, $3.5 million contract. With his role set and Reaves able to do what he does best, the younger players of the Rangers will not have to be as subjected as targets like they once were. Reaves currently ranks third overall in the league for hits with 2,322 hits and averages 20 hits per 60 minutes.
Why These Signings are Crucial to Team Development
As mentioned, the team backbone role cannot be relegated to two or three players, especially those who have other, more contributive roles. That is exactly how the Rangers were previously surviving. Defensemen Brendan Smith, Jacob Trouba, and Ryan Lindgren were the main sources of physicality for the past few seasons.
But with Smith now on the Carolina Hurricanes and Trouba filling in nicely into an important leadership role — Lindgren cannot be solely held responsible for the physicality. Lindgren, age 23, who stands at 6-foot-191-pounds, has other priorities like his top priority in a pairing with recent Norris Trophy winner, Adam Fox.
Trouba, who makes a great case for team captaincy, cannot afford to be missing portions of the season due to injury. From the eye test alone, Trouba still has not reached his full potential in New York with taking on an extra dose of physicality, as he would be further constricted to hit his peak. His ability to provide offensively while providing great defense makes him a crucial part of the Rangers’ core.
With the multitude of first and second-year players on the team, this group is still adjusting to a typical 82-game season format. In addition to their on-ice development, they will need to adjust to the demands of the big leagues, for example, blueline K’Andre Miller, who jumped from college to the NHL. Though Miller settled in, he was noticeably uneasy in his early games. As an anticipated cornerstone of the defense, he should have the opportunity to focus on his development and not rush into using his size for grit right from the jump.
In fact, most of the young Rangers are very much a part of the future plan, which is why highly-anticipated players like Vitali Kravtsov and Morgan Barron joined the team this season but were not rushed into these spots. To disrupt development for any of the young skaters would be a huge mistake, whether it be of injury or being thrown in as a replacement.
Though the team is looking quite fast, speed is not enough to protect from big-bodied hits and corner scrums. The Rangers are also one of the smaller teams, something that comes with the speed and youth but is not necessarily an outright downside. However, it will be a challenge for the smaller players to go up against seasoned players regardless.
The skaters were not the only ones subject to scary situations. The goal crease becomes an invitation for injury in an instant and netminders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev were never exempt from that either. Keeping players on the ice to maximize their ice time will be crucial. Though Shesterkin and Georgiev do not always hesitate to get involved, the team will certainly breathe a sigh of relief having an Adam McQuaid-type able to step in when it comes to protecting the young goalies.
Here’s another example with center Filip Chytil, who recently earned a two-year extension. The team, who desperately lacks depth at center, will continue to rely on Chytil, but when he was injured last season, it could not have happened at a worse time. At that point, he notched points left and right, and at age 21, the young Czech appeared to genuinely be going in the right direction.
But an injury sustained early in the shortened season during a collision against the Pittsburgh Penguins put Chytil’s improvement on pause. The center missed over a month worth of games. Now, having heavy hitters on the team will not eliminate any and all injuries, but you rule out a lot of preventable injuries.
This also “buys time” so the young talent can develop at their own pace. The costs of the Reaves contract is extremely affordable in exchange for what he can provide for his teammates. In regard to the longer-term cost of Tinordi, Blais and Goodrow remain another story, and the front office realizes they have a cap to work against.
But again, you need grit up and down the lineup to be effective. This will open opportunities for young talent in terms of where they are situated in the lines. Gallant is most likely prepping to shake up the lines, but the addition of bite will help map out a plan to roll four specialized lines.
With the Rangers making a big splash at the end of the 2020-21 season regarding on-ice incidents, it will be interesting to see how all opponents respond. Could we see notorious agitators challenge the Rangers, or will they lay low? Regardless, the team is now equipped with a few new names in addition to Trouba, Lindgren, and a more under-the-radar physicality guy, a sturdy Chris Kreider.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.