ST. LOUIS — After beginning his professional career playing for Alaska in the East Coast Hockey League, Ryan Reaves knows a little bit about dedication and perseverance.
All that work paid off last week when Reaves received a four-year, $4.5 million contract extension from the Blues.
"It means a lot," said Reaves, who turns 27 on Jan. 20. "I've spent eight years in this organization coming from the Coast (East Coast Hockey League), kind of battling my way up and earning a spot here."
Reaves earned that spot initially with his physical play and superior toughness as an enforcer. Since then he has morphed into an all-purpose forward who provides toughness, speed, aggressive checking and the occasional goal or two.
"As the game's changed, I think I've kind of changed with it," said Reaves, who has two goals, five points and 65 penalty minutes in 27 games. "You don't see that guy who goes out and plays two minutes and gets into the big fight, then sits there for the rest of the game.
"I've expanded my role from that. I'm trying to get more minutes, add a little more offense, be that energy guy that the team needs every game."
Reaves was a major part of the team's successful "CPR Line" last season with Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter. He has played with different linemates this season, but his game continues to evolve and improve.
Reaves said Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong got in touch with his agent last week and the deal came together quickly.
"It was a pretty quick process," Reaves said. "I think both sides kind of wanted to get it done. As my confidence grows in myself, I think it grows with them too. I think it will be a good fit."
Blues' depth impressive
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked about the team's ability to keep on winning despite the loss of top-flight injured regulars like David Backes, Alexander Steen and Roman Polak, among others.
Only Anaheim (35-8-5, 75 points), Chicago (30-8-10, 70 points) and Pittsburgh (33-12-2, 68 points) have more points than the Blues (31-8-5, 67 points).
"I don't know that we're deeper, we're playing deeper," Hitchcock said. "I think more guys are playing better. We're getting more contributions from more people throughout the lineup and the young guys have improved."
The biggest impact among the youngsters has been from Jaden Schwartz (15 goals, 32 points) and Vladimir Tarasenko (15 goals, 28 points).
"Emerging players like Schwartz and Tarasenko have really helped us," Hitchcock said. "They've given us balanced scoring that a lot of teams are looking for. But we do it by committee and when one committee member is missing, it doesn't mean that everything gets closed down."
The Blues have five players with 15 or more goals and seven with 30 or more points.
"If you were counting on two or three guys that's a different story," Hitchcock said. "But we've really got nine that we count on and sometimes even 10. I think that's why when you're missing a guy or two, it isn't the end of the world for us because other people are stepping up."
Eight is enough
With the expected return of Roman Polak, the Blues will have eighth healthy defenseman. On Monday at practice, Polak took shifts with Jordan Leopold as well as Ian Cole.
Cole took advantage of his opportunity while Leopold and Polak were injured, stepping up his game.
"What's happened over time is this has really been an advantage for Ian Cole," Hitchcock said. "He's really improved and gotten better, so we have options. With so many games, all the guys are going to play anyway."
Hitchcock also gave his team off Saturday and Sunday before hitting another busy stretch that will see the Blues play nine games in the next 17 days.
"I think what was needed was the second day off," he said. "We had great jump at practice (Monday), a lot of energy. A lot of guys that looked tired at the end of the road trip have re-energized."