Sullivan: Penguins looking for offence from Reaves, not fisticuffs

Blues forward Ryan Reaves finds another gear once he gets into the Penguins zone and puts a beauty past Matt Murray.

When the Pittsburgh Penguins saw a cavalcade of well-known names walk out the door following the club’s second straight Stanley Cup championship, it was clear to all that Pittsburgh would need to bring in some help to balance out the glut of lost veterans.

But the back-to-back champs turned heads when they revealed their choice of replacement, swinging a deal with St. Louis to acquire big-bodied bruiser Ryan Reaves.

For a team that has thrived on speed and skill while often shirking overt displays of physicality, the decision to give up important pieces to net an enforcer seemed odd. Even Reaves himself was surprised at the decision.

But it appears the Penguins weren’t looking at Reaves for his heavy hands, but rather for his potential to aid the team’s offensive efforts.

“I think he’s going to be able to play the type of game that the Penguins are trying to play,” head coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday. “I like the fact that Ryan can really skate. His skating ability is evident. He can play at both ends of the rink. We certainly are helpful that we can help him in all aspects of his game so that he can contribute at both ends of the rink.”

While some may not be convinced given that Reaves’ career-high, single-season goal total sits at seven tallies (achieved last season), Sullivan elaborated on the Penguins’ line of thinking, saying Reaves’ potential importance may be grounded more in pressuring the opposition than scoring.

“Sometimes when people in hockey talk about the Penguins, they always talk about our puck possession, which we like, and our priority is always to keep the puck,” Sullivan said. “The way this game has evolved, there’s a fair amount of puck pursuit out there, too, with chasing people down, forcing turnovers by putting defencemen or opponents under pressure. I think Ryan can really help us in that area of the game.

“I think he can skate. He can get to people. I think opponents are going to be well aware when he’s on the ice. They’ll be more inclined to make a play a little bit quicker. Sometimes that turns into an errant pass and a potential counterattack opportunity for our team. We’re excited to work with him.”

That’s likely music to Reaves’ ears, as the 30-year-old said he’s worked hard to transform his game and become a more offensive-minded player.

“The way the game’s changing – you used to see guys get four minutes a night, get their fight, and they’re done,” Reaves said. “That kind of player is gone. You have to adapt. That’s the player I used to be. I didn’t want to be out of the NHL, so I changed my style. I didn’t do as much weights. Didn’t go boxing every day.

“I think I focused more on power in my legs and speed, working on my hands, working on the little things down low that allowed me to keep the puck down low and help out in the offensive zone.”

For what it’s worth, one of the premier offensive talents on Reaves’ new club gave the former Blue a vote of confidence.

“We don’t feel like every game he needs to protect us. I can protect myself,” Evgeni Malkin told the Gazette on Saturday. “I’m ready to play a hard game against Philadelphia or Columbus. I want him to play his game. He’s a good player. I think he can score a couple goals.

“We want him to score goals, not fight.”

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