CHICAGO — After winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, the Penguins believe the target on their backs only can grow larger.
They addressed that issue Friday at the NHL Draft. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford acquired rugged St. Louis Blues winger Ryan Reaves for center Oskar Sundqvist and a first-round pick, 31st overall. The Penguins also received the Blues’ second-round pick, 51st overall.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Reaves played 80 games this past season and had seven goals, six assists and 13 points, all career highs. The 30-year-old also recorded 104 penalty minutes, 12th-most in the NHL, and 239 hits, 10th most in the league.
He had six fighting majors to run his career total to 56 in seven NHL seasons.
“We won the Cup (in 2016), and teams played us even harder than they usually do,” Rutherford said. “Now we expect them to come again this (coming season), so it was important to get him.”
Said coach Mike Sullivan: “I think that Ryan is a guy that when he is in your lineup, people take notice.”
However, Rutherford and Sullivan said they believe Reaves can bring abrasiveness to the lineup without sacrificing an ability to play.
“He can play,” Rutherford said. “He skates very well for a big guy. He gets in on the forecheck, which is what we like. He can certainly fit into our system and play.”
Said Sullivan: “We know first and foremost that he is a really good person. We think he’ll fit into our locker room extremely well. He’ll help our veteran leadership. He’ll help our team chemistry. For a lot of reasons, we’re thrilled to have him.”
“The one thing we really like about Ryan is that he is a safe player. He has awareness defensively. He can play in his own end zone. He plays a regular shift.”
Sundqvist, 23, was scoreless in 10 regular-season games with the Penguins. He had 20 goals in 63 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
With Nick Bonino headed for unrestricted free agency and Matt Cullen leaning toward retirement, Sundqvist was penciled in as one of the team’s bottom-six centers next season. Now, Rutherford will need to add a center or two via trade or free agency.
Rutherford acknowledged the cost in adding Reaves.
“When you want to get the guy that is the best at doing what he does, then you have to pay a price,” Rutherford said. “Regardless of what we paid, we’re happy to have him.
“We recognized that Oskar is a good, young player. But we also recognized that we’re getting a little bit tired of getting beat up game after game.”
The trade means the Penguins have not had a first-round pick since 2014. That year, they selected forward Kasperi Kapanen, who subsequently was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the July 2015 trade that brought Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh.
The Penguins will have six picks Saturday in Rounds 2-7. Along with the Blues’ second-round pick, they have a third-round pick (93rd) and a pair of fifth-round choices (152nd and 155th). They wrap up the day with a pick in the sixth round (186th) and one in the seventh (217th).
Patrick Williams is a freelance writer.