There’s no question that today’s game has evolved drastically from what it was only about 10 years ago. The NHL is more skilled and youthful from top to bottom than it has ever been. The last of the “goonies” were flushed down the sink along with John Scott after his 2016 satirical All-Star captaincy and MVP award. The age of the “enforcer” is essentially history, as the role has become extinct in winning hockey formulas. However, a player like Ryan Reaves has revolutionized the fourth-line role. Here is why.
Ryan Reaves Plays Different and Effective Style
A Unique Lineup Intangible
Most fourth lines now consist of sparky AHL call-ups or grizzled veterans, both of whom have at least some offensive upside. Yet, how does Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves, a 33-year-old 6-foot-1, 225-pound bruiser, continue to bully this progressed NHL like he owns the playground? While making his playstyle an effective intangible for his team while he’s at it?
The answer is quite simple.
While Reaves stays true to practices of “old-time hockey,” he uniquely creates offensive opportunity. This is not a contribution that “enforcers” used to wield. Since joining Vegas in 2017-18, Reaves has been like bread on butter in a system with pressure from sizable bodies everywhere.
It is bizarre that his best offensive seasons in professional hockey have come at ages 32 and 33, posting 20 and 15 points, respectively. Now, in the abstract of the NHL, those totals are obviously nothing to write home about. But, when there is a player who can menace anyone in his way, click with varying talents on his line, and eclipse a peak in his later years, it’s a special weapon to anchor the fourth line with. Reaves has branded himself as “the toughest player in hockey” by slaying the likes of the NHL’s biggest and toughest brutes. He certainly wears the belt as the league’s undisputed fighting champion (while only logging an honest 47 penalty minutes last season).
The Best Insurance Plan
It’s become a novelty to go toe-to-toe with Reaves as an opposing player. The target on his back is a compliment more than anything else. Many of his bouts are spawned from the blind-siding hits that he unloads in the middle of the ice. This leaves his opponents with no choice but to drop the gloves. Otherwise, all momentum would be lost for them. It’s a great tool for a Mark Stone, William Karlsson, or Jonathan Marchessault because it allows them to play with more risk.
“Enforcers” were the best insurance policy for a team’s star players for the years of their popularity in lineups. So, to have the opportunity to deploy one on the ice that can also contribute elsewhere is a luxury. Not only has this persona of Reaves thrived in Vegas, but it has also moulded him into a leader for a brand-new franchise. This has contributed to the jolt that has propelled them to a perennial Western Conference threat in their few seasons. He brings charisma and a bright personality to the locker room which makes the identity of the Golden Knights just a little bit more amusing, too.
Teams would be lying if they were to say that Reaves wouldn’t be a good asset for their bottom six. He wields every dream weapon a franchise could ask for in an “enforcer,” a label that this man has single-handedly transformed into a new hybrid role that features a little of everything from a large physical scrapper. There are few that have followed Reaves into this special type of contributor, such as his nemesis, Tom Wilson. But, it’s not an accessory that most teams have and Reaves has established himself as the best.
Revolutionizing the “Enforcer” Role
While hockey is as entertaining as ever with the sheer skill and speed of the present game, we forget how much of a show the “enforcer” used to provide. Ryan Reaves helps us remember. But, on a 2.0 level that sprinkles in attributes required in the modern era. Just put it this way, try and think of another fourth-line player in the NHL who could warrant enough material to talk about at this length. It would be difficult. Because a feature story on any of them would hardly take up the 280 characters in a tweet. Like him or hate him, Reaves makes noise.
The tough-guy signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension in June. So, the Knights are set to pursue a Stanley Cup with their haunting playoff hockey weapon yet again. All of this while their roster is still in its prime of talent and experience.