Ryan Reaves rarely receives the credit he deserves. Fans may view him as a fighter or the team's enforcer, but he has proven over the last two seasons that he's much more than that. He's competent with the puck, a strong skater and intelligent when it comes to playing the game of hockey.
Reaves put all of his best attributes on display Thursday night in a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames. He scored two goals, engaged in a memorable fight and threw plenty of big hits in what might have been the best game of his young career.
Let's start with his first goal of the night.
The fourth line has been playing some exceptional hockey. They trap the opponent in their own end, cycle the puck and create chance after chance while wearing down opposing defenders. Here they get the puck in deep before Reaves collects the puck and snipes one into the left side of the net.
For his second goal (pictured above), the fourth line again got the puck in deep and outworked the Calgary defense. Reaves was positioned at the top of the crease, waiting to see how the play developed. He then muscled past a defenseman, burying a loose puck into the top of the net.
Reaves had just seven goals in 129 career games prior to his two-goal effort on Thursday.
As if two goals weren't enough, Reaves also got into a scrap with Calgary's Tim Jackman. Jackman jumped Reaves and started swinging immediately on the St. Louis forward. Despite being caught by surprise, Reaves responded and won this fight by a large margin.
Here, Reaves displayed his intelligence. He knows that the Flames will try to initiate something trailing 4-1. He knows now is not the time to take a penalty or to get into a fight. However, when he was jumped, Reaves had no choice but to answer and he did an effective job of laying down the law. The emotion he displays after his scrap shows just how much this game and this team means to him.
Gradually, Reaves has become a player fans gravitate to. He plays the game hard, yet sensibly. He has some skill on the puck and can bury an offensive chance if he's presented one. More importantly, he's an enforcer that goes beyond the typical "enforcer" label. He isn't a liability.
Teams around the NHL have moved away from having an enforcer in favor of having a player that's capable of handling the puck and contributing out on the ice. Reaves does a bit of both and performs both the role of hockey player and the role of enforcer incredibly well.