The winger’s up-tempo and bruising style make him effective and popular.
In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we revisit and evaluate the individual performances of Vegas Golden Knights players from last year’s regular season and extended playoff format. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games will be included.
Ryan Reaves didn’t come to the Vegas Golden Knights as a scorer. He was an enforcer in every sense of the word, and he wasn’t expected to bring a whole lot to the table at the time of his arrival. But his possession stats have been impressive from the get-go, and he’s become a more well-rounded player since coming to Sin City.
There’s no denying that he’s become a fan favorite. From the energy he creates on every shift, his personality on and off the ice, the intensity he brings to rivalries and his physical and fearless approach to the game, Reaves has become part of the Knights’ identity.
Season in review
Reaves finished the season with eight goals and 15 points in 71 games. Though he fell short of his career-high 20-point output from 2018-19, it was still the second-best season of his career. He could have tied or surpassed his career high of nine goals had the season not been paused.
A fifth-round pick (No. 156 overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Reaves has 48 goals and 96 points in 649 regular-season games spanning 10 seasons with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Vegas. Seventeen goals and 37 of those points have been scored with the Knights.
Reaves originally was acquired in a three-way deadline-day deal with Ottawa and Pittsburgh nearly three years ago. He has since signed two two-year contracts, including one that was inked last June. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native took a $1.025 million pay cut on the most recent deal, which carries an AAV of $1.75 million. Though Reaves fills a role for Vegas, it’s still more than many fourth-liners make, and he is about to turn 34 this month.
Reaves’ physicality is a big reason why he’s been so effective.
Among skaters who played in at least 20 games, Reaves finished first in the entire NHL in hits per 60 (26.33) and registered more hits than anyone else in the league, finishing the regular season with 316 hits in 71 games.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound winger finished sixth on the team in high-danger Corsi per 60 (14.13), and his 0.69 goals per 60 at 5-on-5 was good for seventh on the roster. He created 1.39 rebounds per 60, which ranked second on the team.
Reaves’ 5-on-5 shooting percentage was the second-highest on the team, which could mean he’s due for some regression. But considering he isn’t tasked with handling Vegas’ heavy offensive responsibilities, he should still be a beneficial asset at both ends of the ice.
Reaves averaged just 10:08 of ice time per game, the second-lowest on the team behind only William Carrier, but did not miss a game in the regular season. He did, however, miss a postseason game.
In fact, Reaves almost ended the postseason for Vegas.
In Game 7 against Vancouver, Reaves was ejected from the game at 16:30 of the second period after receiving a match penalty for an illegal check to the head of Tyler Motte.
The Knights were assessed a five-minute major on the play, which easily could have shifted the series in Vancouver’s favor. However, the Knights’ penalty kill was able to hold off a lethal Canucks power play and keep the game scoreless. The Knights went on to win the game (3-0) and the series (4-3), and Reaves ultimately received a one-game suspension for the hit.
Vegas’ Ryan Reaves has been suspended for one playoff game for an Illegal Check to the Head on Vancouver’s Tyler Motte. https://t.co/cHK4FbkvnF
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) September 5, 2020
But it could have been a season-ending judgment call. Regardless of intent, this hit was avoidable and completely unnecessary given the stakes. The do-or-die Game 7 matchup was 0-0 at the time, and the Knights had been struggling tremendously against a red-hot Thatcher Demko. One goal could have won the game (and series) for the Canucks, making the hit and five-minute major an incredibly risky turn of events, even if Vegas was able to recover.
Reaves has been more disciplined on the whole (he had 47 penalty minutes this season, down from 74 the year before), but it’s one area of Reaves’ game that remains questionable, even if it has improved.
Though he missed Game 1 against Dallas, Reaves finished the postseason with four assists, a plus-two rating and nine shots in 19 games. His limited ice time helped pull off a team-best 1.39 assists-per-60 rate, though two of the four helpers came during the round-robin tournament.
Once again, Reaves brought the physicality, leading all players (min. five games) in hits per 60 (32.05).
However, he went pointless in the final 12 games of the playoffs, including every game of the second and third rounds. Plus, though it was above 50 percent, Reaves’ 52.48 percent Corsi was the worst on the team among skaters who played at least 10 games (it was the second-worst among all Vegas players).
In a February contest against the Lightning, Vegas held a one-goal lead heading into the third period. But it took Reaves just 10 seconds to net the insurance marker, and everything about the goal was vintage Ryan Reaves.
He broke up a pass, proceeded to out-muscle the defender, fought through the check, got his stick free and fired a shot that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.
It was all about hard work and pressure, and Reaves capitalized.
But arguably his most significant and lasting contribution came in the form of his leadership and involvement as NHL players and teams came together to protest racial inequality and police brutality. The players decided to pause the playoffs and cancel games for two days, and Reaves served as Vegas’ representative when Western Conference teams met with the media to explain the decision.
Earlier in the postseason, Reaves was one of four players from the Knights and Stars to kneel during the national anthems in protest of systemic racism.
Without question, Reaves will be a staple on Vegas’ fourth line this season. He and Carrier form a formidable duo, and the two have developed a chemistry that makes Vegas’ fourth line one of the best in the league.
With most hockey players, age becomes a factor in the early- to mid-thirties, so it’s possible it could be a concern for Reaves, especially given the physical nature of his style of hockey. But he has shown no signs of slowing down, so it appears to be full speed ahead for No. 75.