Marty Reasoner entered the NHL as a scorer. He's stayed for 11 seasons by doing everything else.
The Thrashers center was drafted 14th overall in 1998 after leading the nation in scoring as a junior at Boston College. He was a two-time All-American. He made the NCAA Championship all-tournament team. He played for two World Junior championship teams. It’s an impressive resume.
After bouncing between the NHL and the minor leagues his first three seasons with St. Louis, Reasoner was traded to Edmonton. Again in and out of the lineup, a young Reasoner got a valuable piece of advice, words he heeded and words that made him the veteran player he is today.
“Craig MacTavish told me, ‘You have to find a way to make yourself valuable somehow. You can play on the third or fourth line and find a way to contribute,’” Reasoner said, referring to the then-Edmonton coach. “I started becoming more of a defensive player and playing on the penalty kill and blocking shots, realizing, especially with him, that if I was good defensively, he would get confidence in me and put me out in situations where I could get more playing time."
It’s not that Reasoner can’t score. He has 82 career goals in 10-plus seasons, including a career-high 14 last season with the Thrashers. But watch closely: To appreciate him is to see the player that digs the puck out of the corner, pokes it out of the zone on the penalty kill, wins a crucial faceoff and blocks shots without regard to his body.
“He understands his role,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “It’s not the glamorous role. He’s a guy that puts food on the table and does it well.”
Years have passed since Reasoner was given that sage advice. He's the one delivering the message now, influencing the careers of young teammates.
“This is my first year penalty-killing in the NHL,” forward Chris Thorburn said. “I don’t think I could feel as comfortable as I do out there without the help of Marty. The coaches give us a plan, but Marty has those fine-tuned tips that he’s picked up over the years that he’s passed on to me. I take them to heart. I’m always asking him questions. He’s made a great career out of it, why not take his advice?”
A coach’s son, it all began for Reasoner at age five in Honeoye Falls, N.Y. He went as far as he could in the youth ranks, but didn't have a high school program. After two years at a Jesuit school in nearby Rochester, he moved on. He attended Deerfield Academy in western Massachusetts for two years, drawing national interest playing for 16- and 17-year-old national teams.
“I was always focused on that next step,” Reasoner said. “The NHL didn’t become a realistic thing until I was 16 and made the U.S. national team. It’s your first opportunity to put yourself against the best in the country."
When it came time to move again, his circle expanded farther still to attend college. Highly recruited in 1995, Reasoner chose Boston College, a program that had suffered several down years and just hired a new coach, Jerry York.
The coach has been at the school ever since and developed B.C. into a national power, and does not underestimate Reasoner’s importance to the program.
"It was important for us to establish ourselves," York said. "He gave instant credibility to our program. He was pivotal.”
Due to an NHL lockout, Reasoner’s draft class was pushed back to 1996 and St. Louis took him after his freshman season. He was the second college player taken.
“That’s when I realized I could make a living at this,” Reasoner said.
After three seasons at B.C., and 69 goals and 93 assists in 111 games, he left for the NHL.
Reasoner made the St. Louis roster as a rookie, but lasted just three years with the Blues, spending time in the AHL in each season. He was traded to Edmonton, where he became an NHL fixture.
“I think those two years, my last in St. Louis and first in Edmonton, were my wakeup call,” Reasoner said. “It was tough. I had some success but couldn’t carry it over, offensively."
Reasonerplayed four seasons in Edmonton before he was dealt at the trade deadline in 2006, spending 19 games with Boston. He re-signed with Edmonton after the season and spent two more years there.
“It’s definitely a different experience playing in a city like that,” Reasoner said. “I had to learn how to play the game all over again. It was always about offense and putting up points and so many times I wouldn’t be worried about defense because you always thought if you scored, you made up for everything."
It was on to Atlanta. Reasoner signed a one-year deal with the Thrashers and appeared in 79 games last season, coming up with 14 goals and 16 assists. His goal total was the highest of his NHL career.
“Everywhere you are you come to a crossroads,” Reasoner said. “I could have gone back to Edmonton for another year, but I felt like I needed to take that chance."
The Thrashers rewarded Reasoner with a two-year contract in June. It gives him time to pass on the knowledge he’s learned, sometimes the hard way, over 11 years.