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This edition of NHL Talk features Ryan Reaves, New York Rangers forward, who is enjoying success in his first season at Madison Square Garden. His surging team has higher expectations for the rest of the 2021-22 season as well as the future.
Reaves Helping Change Rangers’ Culture in First Season in New York
Reaves made headlines around the NHL on Wednesday with a two-goal game in the Rangers’ valiant 6-3 comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Reaves, an enforcer who has put together a strong New York season and helped to change the culture within the team, deserves this recognition. Reaves is known for his aggressive, hard-hitting play style and has taken 24 penalty minutes.
“The Rangers just don’t get pushed around anymore, which is why he was acquired after year, after year, after year of being beat up,” says THW’s Tom Castro. “He said in a preseason press conference, in the preseason media availability, he formally warned all the teams. He said that everyone is going to be held accountable, and I think from someone like him, that’s going to reverberate through the league. And obviously it has.”
The 35-year old was Obtained from the Vegas Golden Knights on July 29, 2021, in exchange for the Rangers’ third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He was brought in to help protect New York’s up-and-coming players on the ice, and is making a great impression on his teammates.
“They’re not being knocked all over the place, but there really is more than that with Reaves,” says Castro. “I think it’s just from his presence. It’s sort of infectious throughout the lineup and with him being there. You see these players, these guys standing up for themselves, for each other more than they used to.”
Reaves’ refusal to be a pushover has found its way throughout the Rangers’ lineup and is inspiring other players to step up when things get chippy.
“It’s why you’ve seen Jacob Trouba emerges full nasty edge that you saw in Winnipeg that you hadn’t really fully seen until now,” says Castro. “It’s why you see even Adam Fox getting in scrums against Boston a couple of months ago. These guys are now more willing to stand up for each other, one because Reaves is there obviously, but two because he makes it clear that that should be a priority.”
With his contract extensionHis contract with the Rangers will expire at the close of the next season. Chances are, with the way he’s impacting the team so early into his New York tenure, the Rangers will look to lock him up for at least a few more years if they get the opportunity.
“He is a real devastating forechecker,” says Castro. “The Rangers have not had that in a long time, maybe since when they had Sean Avery. So, he goes out there and he’s got opposing players’ heads on a swivel.”
Rangers Are Making Progress, but Have Higher Expectations Moving Forward
Rangers are currently fourth in NHL and first in Metropolitan Division, with a solid 26-10-4 record. This team is currently riding a 3-game win streak. As one of just five NHL teams this seasons with less than 100 goals allowed (99), New York is one of the league’s teams to beat. While the Rangers look set to reach the postseason, there are still improvements to be made and 42 more games to play.
“They’re going to have to be better at 5-on-5,” says Castro. “[Goaltender Igor]Some of this has been disguised by Shesterkin. At this point, he’s stolen a number of games. This is a player who’s going to be a Vezina [Trophy] finalist and somehow didn’t make the All-Star team.”
Shesterkin is having a great season. He has a.938 save percent (SV%) in 24 games and 23 start. While Shesterkin has been able to save New York from some tough games in the past, it is not the only reason Rangers are enjoying success.
“They’ve had really exceptional special teams, very good power play, although it has fallen off a little bit lately, and they kill penalties really well,” says Castro. “But they there’s a chance that can be improved.”
Rangers’ power-play percentage is 22.8 percent. Rangers are third in penalty kill with 85.2 percent. The special teams units have been major factors in the Rangers’ success, and a few players on the team are having the best seasons of their careers.
“They’ve only got a few players that are having these career seasons,” says Castro. “Chris Kreider is obviously one of them. He’s had an incredible season. Twenty-five goals. He has become the Rangers’ dream player. Adam Fox, reigning Norris Trophy Winner. He’s had a great season, another monster season, which again was predictable, and Shesterkin has been great as well.”
The Rangers are doing well right now. But, only time will tell if their success can be sustained. The Rangers’ strong play this season is encouraging for a bright future as they continue to build a Stanley Cup-contending team.
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“They’re not going to get mentioned among some of the other top Stanley Cup contenders,” says Castro. “But, the raw material is there. With an experienced coach and experienced players, the ability is there. And if they continue to get better here over the next however many games going into the playoffs, it could be a fun run for them if they can keep everything together and continue to trend upwards as they’ve been doing really since the beginning of the season.”
We appreciate you reading this edition. Don’t forget to subscribe to THW Podcast each weekday (Monday through Friday) to hear what your favourite hockey writers have got to say on the hottest topics in the league.
Tom Pepper hosts The Hockey Writers Podcast on iHeartRadio and wherever you listen to podcasts, every weekday (Monday to Friday). He also writes the “NHL Talk” and “NHL Sound Bites” columns. He is a diehard Buffalo Sabres fan in Toronto, frequently driving the Queen Elizabeth Way to cheer on his team at KeyBank Center.