(HockeyStL) -- In the past decade, the Blues have acquired their fair share of tough guys hoping to make their squad more physical in the process. Ryan Reaves is the latest player expected to fill that role. But that role no longer entails the same duties as in previous years. It now comes with higher expectations.
Reaves, 26, is a Winnipeg native who was drafted by St. Louis in 2005. It took Reaves five years to reach the National Hockey League and another season to establish himself with the Blues. When he first began playing on the Blues’ roster, Reaves was no different than any other enforcer, except he was a better-than average fighter. However, Reaves had something that most enforcers at the time didn’t. He had potential.
As the game evolved, rendering the once-important role of enforcer unimportant if not accompanied with other skills, Reaves evolved as well. That is why even with guys who have thrived in the enforcer role in the past have struggled to play a single game in the NHL this season, Reaves remains an asset to his team.
Reaves netted his second goal of the season in the Blues’ Saturday night victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and while his offense perhaps isn’t the most polished aspect of his game, it’s coming around.
“He can read teams’ exits, he’s able to pick off passes, and he’s able to anticipate plays now,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock on Saturday in a video posted on the team’s website. ” He’s not just trying to get hits now and energize the team. We don’t need that type of energy. We need good play and he is giving it to us quite a bit now.”
Of course, Reaves is still doing a bit of energizing as well. He currently leads the Blues in both hits (49) and penalty minutes (50). But his plus/minus rating of plus-four is evidence of his two-way game this season.
One thing working in Reaves’ favor is the make-up of the team. This offseason, general manager Doug Armstrong successfully bolstered the depth of his team. The Blues now have as solid a forward group as any other NHL team, and that depth extends to the fourth line, which newcomer Maxim Lapierre centers.
Lapierre, who was acquired by the Blues this offseason, has been a nice help for Reaves and the fourth line because he brings a bit of offense with his game. Lapierre’s start with the Blues this season was a bit eventful as he was suspended for five games after delivering an illegal hit in the fifth game of the season. Since his return, he and Reaves have begun to mesh. They have three points between them since Lapierre’s suspension concluded.
“Bringing in ‘Lappy’ brings some offense to that fourth line,” said Reaves on Saturday. “(We) are starting to get our stride now. ‘Lappy is coming into his own after that suspension. I think still a little more work, talking a little more and getting things down pat.”
Having a player like Reaves is a bit of a happy change for the Blues. Throughout their long rebuild process, the team always had at least one player with the clearly-defined role of being physical. D.J. King and Cam Janssen were two of the recent players that held that role with the Blues. King left the Blues first and relinquished the enforcer role to Janssen. After a few seasons with Janssen on the job, it was Reaves’ turn.
King and Janssen were efficient in their roles, but added little except energy and penalty minutes to the team. When the Blues opted not to re-sign Janssen after the 2010-11 season, it was clear they were looking for more than just an energy guy. They wanted a more complete player. Though they weren’t aware of it at the time, the Blues now have what they want, and other teams wish they had, in Reaves.
Since his call-up the NHL, Reaves has developed a better two-way game. He is now more focused on creating and executing scoring chances than on which guy he next plans to level with a bone-crushing hit. Any observer can see as much this season.
The NHL is ever-changing. A physical player is still necessary in today’s game but also dime a dozen. A player like Reaves, who can protect his own teammates, provide energy, and have a well-rounded skillset, is of much more importance to a team. The Blues inked Reaves to a two-year deal in 2012, and he hasn’t let them down. Reaves’ game is improving year to year, and seemingly game by game.
While Reaves continues to get chances to produce offensively, there are more important things to Hitchcock than points.
“It’s not so much his offense as his anticipation,” said Hitchcock. “He is a smart player. If he focuses on just playing hockey, he can be really effective.”