Battle of enforcers: Rangers’ Matt Rempe vs. Maple Leafs’ Ryan Reaves

Battle of enforcers: Rangers’ Matt Rempe vs. Maple Leafs’ Ryan Reaves

TORONTO — The Rangers and Maple Leafs will enter the Hockey Night in Canada ring Saturday amid the most successful stretches of each team’s respective season.

Bookending the top-five teams in the Eastern Conference, the clubs go head-to-head in a litmus test contest that not only carries standings implications but will also feature two generations of NHL enforcers in each corner.

On the Maple Leafs’ side: 37-year-old, 6-foot-2, 226-pound Ryan Reaves.

The Rangers' Matt Rempe fights the Flyers' Nicolas Deslauriers on Feb. 24.The Rangers’ Matt Rempe fights the Flyers’ Nicolas Deslauriers on Feb. 24. AP

On the Rangers’ side: 21-year-old, 6-foot-8 ½, 245-pound Matt Rempe.

There have been conversations with Rempe about his newfound celebrity as the league’s newest face puncher, so it is not guaranteed that the Rangers rookie will accept or initiate a tilt with one of the league’s last throwback fighters.

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But Reaves dusted off his fists for his first fight since October against the Coyotes’ Liam O’Brien on Thursday.

He then fielded questions about Matt Rempe on Friday.

“He’s coming in [the] league trying to make a name for himself any way he can,” Reaves told reporters. “That’s how I came in. I wasn’t called up to add a scoring touch, that’s for sure. It was to be physical and stand up for teammates and draw some energy.

“Good on him. He’s got some attention, and we’ll see how long it lasts.”

Asked about the chances of a showdown with Rempe, Reaves was nonchalant.

“I don’t have the game script,” he said. “But you never know.”

Reaves, who played 81 games for the Rangers over two seasons before the organization traded him to Minnesota last year, has fallen into the same situation as he did at the end of his tenure in New York.

After skating in the first 14 games, Reaves has since bounced in and out of the lineup, partially because of injury and largely due to coaching decisions.

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Ryan Reaves (75) attempts a shot against Boston Bruins center Danton HeinenMaple Leafs right wing Ryan Reaves previously spent time with the Rangers until he was traded to the Wild last year. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

He’s played in the last four straight contests and 11 of the last 13, however, so the chances of Reaves ending up on the ice the same time as Rempe are high.

The way NHL tough guys have actively looked to get a piece of Rempe through his first six games has made headlines.

The way the Rangers have fed off it deserves just as much attention.

Rempe and the rest of his line, Adam Edstrom and Barclay Goodrow, can be a force on the forecheck.

In just 21:18 of ice time, according to Natural Stat Trick, they’ve been on for one Rangers goal and zero against while holding a 14-9 edge in scoring chances.

“I think, for sure, he brings energy,” Laviolette said of Rempe this past week. “He’s a big guy, he skates hard, he gets in on the forecheck. He’s banged a lot of bodies for us. His line, on many occasions, have put it behind the defense, turned pucks over, brought pucks to the net and scored goals. For the amount of time that they’re getting, they’ve produced a couple goals in the last couple games. I think that they’ve done a good job.

“They bring energy. Eddy brings energy and Rempe brings energy. Goodie has been a good mentor for those two, just making sure that he’s talking and communicating to them all the time. They’ve had positive influences on the game.”

The Rangers signed Connor Mackey to a two-year, two-way extension that carries a cap hit of $775,000 on Friday, according to a source.

The 27-year-old defenseman played in one game for the Rangers this season in Ottawa on Jan. 27, when Mackey dropped the gloves with Senators captain Brady Tkachuk.

Mackey has scored two goals and dished nine assists in 36 AHL games for the Wolf Pack this season.