Ryan Reaves and his role going forward with the Penguins is a hot talking point amongst Pittsburgh media and fans this past month. He has not been seeing much game action and was a healthy scratch often during January. The team seems to have settled down now and is turning a corner without his help. Head Coach Mike Sullivan is taking a balanced approach to his lines now that Bryan Rust is healthy and this is allowing him spread his offensive talent around. Reaves, being a niche player with a limited skill set, is the casualty of the current game plan. So this begs the question? Do the Penguins even need a player of his ilk around for the remainder if the season and playoff run? You absolutely do.
I look at Ryan Reaves like car insurance. You only realize you need insurance until; you know, you need insurance. I don’t need to explain to everybody what a different animal the Stanley Cup Playoffs are. A deep playoff run requires contributions generally from every player on the roster. Maybe I’m in the minority thinking Reaves has immense value to this roster. If you are going to have a player in the bullpen to insert into the lineup he had better have intangibles needed to impact a specific game. What he lacks in his scoring touch he makes up with durability, on ice intensity, attitude. These attributes are needed in the playoffs, this cannot be denied.
We all know how quickly an injury, a suspension or a cheap shot can change the makeup of a playoff series. Reaves isn’t going to be a player to lean on in the playoffs. Jim Rutherford did not acquire him for that role, but everything he does bring will be needed to win at least 1 playoff game. You need 16 wins, if the one game he dresses influences or plays a vital role in the outcome; the trade has worked in my eyes. Example, in 2015-16 playoffs 3rd string goalie Jeff Zatkoff had his one game where he needed step up for the team. He was forced into action due to injuries and rose to the occasion and beat the Rangers. He was basically an afterthought to many fans until we needed him. Every player, even ones that see the press box as much as the ice, all have a role.
Reaves is also being type cast as a just an “enforcer”. Yes, he fights and fights well but he is not a knuckle dragging hitman like Georges Laraque or Krzysztof Oliwa. If you have watched Reaves at all this season in his limited ice time has shown he can indeed skate and not a complete liability defensively. He also has the speed to flank any of the stars if needed and plays heavy. He currently leads the team in hits with 137 while only averaging 6:41min of total ice time. When he is out there he makes his presence felt. It is also up for debate if his ability to drop the gloves actually keeps the stars safe. Does it? Probably not. The days of enforcers policing the ice are long gone, but if the stars get an occasional shift where the “feel safe” how is that hurting anything? Also for a guy getting scratched and obviously underutilized he’s keeping a pretty positive attitude. He knows his role and trusts that coaching staff is going to use him when needed. Team first guys is what makes role players vital to a championship.
Forward Conor Sheary is now week to week with an lower-body injury, opening up a spot to insert Ryan Reaves back into the lineup tonight against Washington. The Capitals are a team that has a history of getting physical with the Penguins, and Reaves will be a welcome sight back on the ice for his teammates. Is Reaves dressing going to guarantee Tom Wilson won’t cheap shot Sidney Crosby or Ovechkin will stop head hunting? As stated earlier, probably not; but if the game does escalate at least the Penguins have a banger of their own it counter with. Reaves’ role on this team, is more nuclear warhead, not missile defense. His presence isn’t going scare the other teams from turning their proverbial key, but does give Penguins an as needed a counter strike if. Players like Ryan Reaves are truly nothing more than insurance policies; you don’t understand their importance until they are needed.