Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves will probably never win the skills competition at NHL All-Star Weekend.
He’s unlikely to even be invited, but it hasn’t stopped him from putting in the work to improve his offensive repertoire.
The hard work is paying off as Reaves had by far his most productive year in his ninth NHL season.
Reaves, 32, set career highs in goals, assists, points, shots, hits, faceoffs won, takeaways and just about every other category that is measured on the ice.
“It was fun for me,” he said of his breakout season. “I obviously hit a lot of career bests and played a lot of good minutes on a really good team. Got some power-play time, which I’ve never really got before. It was a really fun season for me, but I’m looking to improve on that next year for sure.”
Reaves has dedicated more offseason time to skill development.
Another factor is more difficult to quantify.
He plays for an organization and a coach in Gerard Gallant that trusts him to be more than just a bruiser.
Gallant trusted him and his line enough to give Reaves a career-high 10:52 per game of ice time and didn’t put many restrictions on what the group could do while they were out there.
“They put me with some good linemates,” Reaves said of playing mostly with Will Carrier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “They helped me out a lot this year. Just giving me the opportunity to play.
“I think (Gallant), when you make a mistake, he’s not afraid to put you back out there and let you rectify that mistake, and that allows you to play with confidence. That’s up and down the lineup. You saw from last year all the players who had career years and this year it was the same thing. There were a lot of players playing really good hockey that maybe hadn’t done that in past seasons. I think being able to play with confidence is the biggest thing.”
‘Found my home’
Reaves took the opportunity and ran with it. He scored nine goals and added 11 assists to go along with a league-leading 305 hits, while recording less than a penalty minute per game for the first time in his career.
“I played against him before (we were teammates) and he was a pretty straight-forward guy they kept in for fighting and energy, but he’s got some skills to him,” linemate Will Carrier said. “We told him I don’t know how many times to keep the puck. A lot of coaches want that fourth line to put the pucks deep, but (Gallant) is OK with us keeping it and trying to make plays as long as we’re safe with it, and that was a big part of why he had some success.
“He played well for us, and he’s going to bring that again next year.”
Reaves has bigger plans going forward. He entered last season with some uncertainty as a free agent before signing a two-year contract worth $2.775 million per season in late June to stay with the Knights and began working to improve his game.
He’s still processing the disappointment of a heartbreaking playoff exit, but Reaves said the slight silver lining is a longer offseason which he enters with a lot more certainty.
“I’m going to spend some time with the family and unwind and just get away from everything,” he said. “But I don’t like taking a lot of time off. I’ll get back to it in a couple weeks and do the same things as last summer. I was focused on working on some offensive stuff a little more than just throwing weights around. I want to do the same thing. I want to work on skill stuff in order to contribute more on the scoreboard. That’s what this summer is about.
“Last year, I found my home and got to work and tried to have the best season of my career. That’s the goal for next year, too.”