The Rejuvenation of James van Riemsdyk

NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers’ correspondent David Strehle looks at a young Philly forward and how he is once again poised to become an offensive force.

Sometimes confidence for a National Hockey League player can be a tricky thing.  Especially a young player that was a high-end draft pick.

Take James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers, for example.

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 27: James van Riemsdyk  of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 27, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Flyers 2-1 in the shoot out. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The 21-year-old left wing, in his second season with the Orange-and-Black, has already experienced several tremendous peaks and valleys in his short time in the league.

The number two overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft began last year as a threat to be a Calder Trophy candidate as the league’s top rookie.

Hot Start, Then Cold As Ice

In his first 16 NHL contests, van Riemsdyk recorded six goals and 18 points.  He would win NHL Rookie-of-the-Month honors for November, 2009, with four goals and five assists during the month.

But as the year went on, it was apparent that the rigors of a long NHL season were taking it’s toll on van Riemsdyk.  Having been used to a college schedule of just over 30 games per year at the University of New Hampshire, he appeared to be wearing down.

He would go on to finish the season with 15 goals and 35 points, pretty disappointing statistics in light of the start that he had gotten off to out of the gates.

After picking up just three goals and six points in the Flyers’ drive to the Stanley Cup Finals, van Riemsdyk decided to hit the gym hard during the off-season.

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 27: James van Riemsdyk  of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 27, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Flyers 2-1 in the shoot out. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Better Shape for the New Season

Coming into camp fitter and leaner, the six-foot, three-inch, 200 pounder was hoping to be able to be up to the physical challenges of an NHL season.

He was  being counted on by head coach Peter Laviolette to make a bigger offensive contribution.  But after assisting on three goals in the clubs’ first four games of the 2010-11 campaign, van Riemsdyk would pick up just one assist over the next eight contests.

Not only was van Riemsdyk not producing, he had stopped doing the things that had made him so effective.  He wasn’t hitting, he wasn’t skating, and he wasn’t going to the net at all, which given his size is a must.

The smooth-skating van Riemsdyk has a long stride, and when he’s carrying the puck and hits the offensive zone with speed forces the opposition’s defense to back in.  With his soft hands and puck skills, this opens up all kinds of chances to create quality scoring chances.

But for whatever reason, he was not doing any of the things that had made so many believe that he would become an offensive force in the league.

Have a Seat

After another game without a point against the New York Rangers on November 5th, Laviolette had seen enough.  In addition to not putting anything on the board, van Riemsdyk had been able to muster just five shots on goal in the previous seven contests.

Laviolette needed much more from him and had to send a message.  As he had done with forward Nikolay Zherdev, the coach sent van Riemsdyk to the press box.

When Philadelphia took to the ice on November 6th against the New York Islanders, van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch.  He would spend a total of four games watching his teammates from high above the ice surface before returning on November 15th against the Ottawa Senators.

While his first two games back in the lineup were uneventful (0 points, -1 rating, three shots on goal), van Riemsdyk has once again begun to contribute offensively.

He has picked up four goals and seven points in the last nine games, and in the process has looked a whole lot more confident in his play.  He is working the corners, hitting the opposition blue line with speed, and going to the dirty areas in front of the net.

In Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, van Riemsdyk scored a goal while diving into the crease to poke a rebound into the net just before Devils’ netminder Johan Hedberg was able to cover up with his glove.

It is almost incomprehensible to think that a player with the blend of talent and tools that van Riemsdyk possesses could go the first 17 games of his season without a goal.

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 05: James van Riemsdyk  of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on December 5, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The advent of “The J-A-M Line”

In addition to van Riemsdyk’s elevated confidence level, the line that Laviolette formed soon after JVR’s return to the lineup has seemingly had much to do with his renaissance.

Along with Andreas Nodl and captain Mike Richards, the trio forms “The J-A-M Line” (James-Andreas-Mike).

The tenacious three are all gritty, and seem to feed off of each other’s energy and creativity.  The resultant productivity has been very welcomed, especially considering that the teams’ top scoring line of Ville Leino-Danny Briere-Scott Hartnell has cooled off significantly in recent weeks.

Interest from Toronto

As was reported last Friday via Twitter by CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio, Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke had inquired as to van Riemsdyk’s availability.

Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren informed Burke that van Riemsdyk is not being moved.

Signed through the 2011-12 campaign for $1,654,167 annually on his entry-level deal (per CapGeek.com), van Riemsdyk’s play over the next year or so will have much to do with Holmgren’s intentions on re-signing him before becoming a restricted free agent.

And if the past block of nine games is any indication, van Riemsdyk would like to stay in the City of Brotherly Love for years to come.

David Strehle
NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers Correspondent
dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com
Twitter: @PhilaDAVEia