Ryan Reaves proving the doubters wrong in first full season with Golden Knights

Ryan Reaves has quickly become one of the Golden Knights’ unquestioned leaders since being acquired at last season’s trade deadline.

It was the week of the NHL’s trade deadline and all eyes were on all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson. The franchise blueliner, who was playing for the Ottawa Senators at the time, had been linked to the Golden Knights for weeks, if not longer. The excitement was brewing, and the idea of Karlsson being traded to Vegas made almost too much sense.

Just a few days prior to the deadline, the Golden Knights were in the middle of a three-team trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and, of course, the Senators.

This was it. This was the moment Erik Karlsson was finally going to become a Golden Knight.

But that never ended up happening.

Instead, the Penguins acquired forward Derick Brassard from Ottawa, the Senators landed defenseman Ian Cole from Pittsburgh and the Knights received a mid-round draft selection and... Ryan Reaves.

With many hoping that Vegas would end up landing one of the best hockey players on the face of the planet, the acquisition of Reaves was initially met with a reasonable amount of criticism. At the time of the trade, Reaves had accumulated a grand total of just 59 points in 477 career games while averaging nearly 100 penalty minutes per season.

He fit the stereotype — a big, tough career fourth-liner with little-to-no upside other than the ability to smash things.

But looking back, that narrative could not have been more false.

Reaves immediately made his presence felt when he first arrived in Vegas. Not only were his big hits and physical play invigorating his teammates on the ice, but his personality and outspoken nature had a similar impact in the locker room as well.

Almost instantly, Reaves had become one of the Knights’ vocal leaders.

“I think that’s something that I’ve always been, no matter what team I’m on,” said Reaves after Thursday’s practice. “I’m not afraid to voice my opinion. And the good thing about this team is not a lot of guys are afraid to voice their opinion. We have a lot of leaders in this room. For me, I don’t necessarily play the most minutes on the team, so you have to help other ways, and being a leader is one way I pride myself on helping this team.”

Reaves has had an impressive start to the 2018-19 season, but his performance in Vegas’ Saturday night victory over the Anaheim Ducks was nothing short of impeccable. Despite only seeing 11:28 of ice time at 5-on-5, Reaves led all Golden Knights forwards with eight high-danger scoring chances and, of course, netted his first goal of the season off a juicy rebound created by a Nick Holden slapper.

While Reaves has impressed individually, though, his linemates have also been downright superb. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and William Carrier, the other two thirds of Vegas’ fourth line, have been driving play at a much higher rate than in years past, and the chemistry formed between Reaves, Bellemare and Carrier has been unquestionably striking.

“They play well together. The fourth line, they work hard, they compete together, they play hard, they play well and they do their job every night,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant after Thursday’s practice. “That’s what’s expected of them. They’re a physical group and they bang bodies and they do their job. I know it makes me feel good on the bench when they play their game like that.”

The fourth line has excelled, and last year’s trade deadline acquisition of Ryan Reaves has directly played a part in that development. He may not be the type of player known for dominating the scoresheet, but Reaves has undoubtedly been one of the Golden Knights’ rock stars in the season’s early going.