Ryan Reaves: Penguins protector or mediocre anchor?


Before you do anything else to start off your week, read Pensblog Pat‘s solid article on the Ryan Reaves trade. Admittedly, my reaction on Friday night to the trade was one of incredulity: A first-round pick for a fighter?! But as Pat concisely wrote, since the NHL wilfully chooses to allow its players to fend for themselves against all kinds of physical abuse, teams are forced to choose the necessary evil of taking matters into their own hands, hiring someone who will dish out punishment in equal measure in the hope that it will lessen the abuse his teammates suffer.

First, after having a weekend to digest the parameters of the deal, the Pens may have overpaid, but not by much. No one knows what Oskar Sundqvist will become in three or four seasons but as noted by many, the usage of Carter Rowney and not Sundqvist on the playoff roster, speaks volumes.

As for stepping down from a first-round pick to a second-round pick? Sliding from the 31st overall draft choice to the 51st, does not make a huge difference. The tables below show the top 15 #31 and #51 overall draft choices respectively, ranked by NHL games played. (Note: you may have to view this in a non-mobile friendly version to see the embedded tables).

Scor Scor Scor
Year Overall Player Pos Amateur Team GP G A PTS
1974 31 Tiger Williams LW Swift Current 962 241 272 513
1995 31 Georges Laraque RW St. Jean 695 53 100 153
1983 31 John Tucker C Kitchener 656 177 259 436
1990 31 Felix Potvin G Chicoutimi 635 0 16 16
1975 31 Russ Anderson D U. of Minnesota 519 22 99 121
1998 31 Artem Chubarov C Dynamo Moscow 228 25 33 58
1987 31 Daniel Lacroix LW Granby 188 11 7 18
1978 31 Al Jensen G Hamilton 179 0 4 4
1973 31 Jimmy Jones RW Peterborough 148 13 18 31
2005 31 Brendan Mikkelson D Portland 131 1 9 10
1985 31 Alain Cote D Quebec 119 2 18 20
2008 31 Jacob Markstrom G Brynas Gavle 109 0 2 2
1976 31 Jim Roberts LW Ottawa 106 17 23 40
1988 31 Russell Romaniuk LW St. Boniface Jr. A 102 13 14 27
1979 31 Paul Marshall LW Brantford 95 15 18 33
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/26/2017.
Scor Scor Scor
Year Overall Player Pos Amateur Team GP G A PTS
1994 51 Patrik Elias LW Kladno 1240 408 617 1025
1969 51 Butch Goring C Dauphin Jr. A 1107 375 513 888
1984 51 Patrick Roy G Granby 1029 0 45 45
1983 51 Brian Bradley C London 651 182 321 503
2005 51 Mason Raymond LW Camrose 546 115 136 251
2008 51 Derek Stepan C Shattuck-St. Mary’s 515 128 232 360
1975 51 Paul Woods LW Sault Ste. Marie 501 72 124 196
1976 51 Ron Zanussi RW London 299 52 83 135
1991 51 Sean Pronger C Bowling Green 260 23 36 59
1980 51 Randy Boyd D Ottawa 257 20 67 87
2010 51 Calle Jarnkrok C Brynas 248 40 48 88
1974 51 Marty Howe D Toronto 197 2 29 31
2009 51 Brian Dumoulin D N.H. Jr. Monarchs 163 2 31 33
2003 51 Colin McDonald RW New England 148 20 26 46
2001 51 Jaroslav Bednar RW HIFK Helsinki 102 10 25 35
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/26/2017.

One could argue that the #51 draft spot featuring Cup winners such as the Penguins own Brian Dumoulin and the top three in Elias, Goring and Roy, has produced far better players than #31.

As for Reaves, there is no doubt he will be a welcome addition to the Pittsburgh roster. Many pundits were astonished that the Penguins 2017 playoff lineup, already depleted by injuries, could survive the grind of the postseason, especially a forwards corp that while skilled, was undersized and took a beating.

Adding muscle and grit and the protection element, in principle, will take some of the physical pressure off the rest of the Penguins. Yet while all that sounds great, I can’t help but think that Reaves overall attributes will be more of a hindrance than a help to the Penguins in terms of all factors that contribute to winning hockey games.

This isn’t an argument that Reaves’ physical play won’t matter since he won’t be skating on a line with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. We all know that the days of skilled stars like Wayne Gretzky skating on a line with his “bodyguards” Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley are long gone. Reaves will most certainly watch from the bench to see which opponents are riding 87 and 71 and take appropriate action when he steps onto the ice.

Rather, the argument against Reaves is that while he states he has worked hard on improving his core hockey skills like skating speed, the Blues were a better team in generating shots without him.

That’s a three-season sample size and what jumps out is how significantly shot attempts for his team increase when he is not on the ice. Certainly, the hope is that taking away his usual linemates from the past two seasons – Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall – all negative shot generators at even strength, and playing him with some combination of Rowney, Scott Wilson, Tom Kuhnhackl, Carl Hagelin and Matt Cullen’s replacement, will give Reaves a boost and integrate him into the Penguins system of using speed to burn the opposition.

Ryan Reaves: Penguins protector or mediocre anchor?But it’s a big “if”. If Reaves can find chemistry with new linemates, he can damage opposing defensemen on the forecheck in addition to the damage he will do to opponents who have been taking shots at other Penguins. But that’s if his hockey skills justify giving him sufficient ice time. Of all St. Louis regular forwards over his seven seasons, he finished last in ice time per game each season, never skating more than nine minutes a night. True, typical fourth liners see just a smidgen more: about 10-12 minutes per night, as guys like Kuhnhackl and Wilson and the departed Eric Fehr did. But those players at least added penalty killing minutes to their game.

Unfortunately for Reaves, the name of his game is physical play and there lies the paradox: his style leads to more penalties, leading to inherently less time on ice. (Reaves led the Blues in penalty minutes per game in five different seasons.)

Three years ago, the Penguins grew frustrated watching Marc Staal abuse Sidney Crosby when the Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate Pittsburgh from the playoffs. They vowed to get tougher and signed Steve Downie. The controversial forward famously stated that “I can guarantee there won’t be any liberties on those players (Crosby and Malkin) this year.”

Downie played his role as advertised, even taking on much bigger foes like Erik Gudbranson. For the Penguins today, there is little risk in this deal but hopefully, Reaves can be the deterrent and also keep up with a system that has worked so well the past two seasons in beating down all challengers.

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