Trip to AHL may be remedy for van Riemsdyk

NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers correspondent David Strehle takes a look at winger James van Riemsdyk’s struggles as Philly continues to win.

When a team gets off to a great start in the new season, many things can be overlooked.  The power play can go 0-6 or maybe the goaltender has a bad night, but as long as the club continues to pile up victories, certain shortcomings seem to fade into the background.

Such is the case with the Philadelphia Flyers and left winger James van Riemsdyk.  As the club has rolled to five straight wins, the young winger’s offensive production has slumped mightily.

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In 13 games this season, the number two overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft has not scored a goal and compiled just four assists.

As he did in his rookie campaign last year, van Riemsdyk had a decent start to this season.  He recorded assists in three of the first four contests, but has only been able to add one more assist over the last nine.

Last year as a rookie, van Riemsdyk looked like an early-season candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie-of-the-Year.  In his first 16 games with the Orange-and-Black van Riemsdyk registered six goals and 18 points, and was challenging for the rookie scoring lead.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBut the rigors of a long, 82 game NHL season can catch up to a player that is used to a college schedule that sees 34 regular season contests that are spread out over the course of five months.  van Riemsdyk looked tired for much of the rest of 2009-10, scoring just nine goals and 17 points over the last 62 games of the campaign.

After such a hot start, a 15-goal, 35-point season had to be viewed as an overall disappointment.

In the postseason, van Riemsdyk followed up his icy cold regular season finish by notching just three goals and six points in 21 playoff games as the Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Despite a rigorous off-season training program which added ten pounds of muscle to his six-foot, three-inch frame, van Riemsdyk’s struggles have continued.

Playing with a never-ending carousel of changing linemates, van Riemsdyk has played with Jeff Carter and Nikolay ZherdevMike Richards and Daniel Carcillo, as well as Blair Betts and Darroll Powe.

What might be most worrisome about van Riemsdyk’s play is his lack of scoring chances.  In 13 games, he has registered a total of 21 shots on goal.  But he recorded 16 of those shots in the first six contests, so he has only managed five shots in the last seven games.

Ties to Kane

Part of the problem with van Riemsdyk may be the high expectations placed upon him when he was selected with the second pick in the 2007 draft.

Philadelphia had trouble winning anything during the 2006-07 season, as they finished last overall with a franchise-worst 22-48-12 mark.

When it came time for the draft lottery and even with the chances weighted in their favor, the Flyers also lost out on the first-overall pick to the Chicago Blackhawks, who promptly chose Patrick Kane with the number one pick.

And don’t think the irony of Kane coming back to score the Cup-winning goal against the Flyers last June is lost on hockey fanatics.  It just seems to be the continuation of a curse that plagues the Orange-and-Black in their quest to return Lord Stanley to the City of Brotherly Love after a 35 year absence.

Kane came to the NHL immediately after being drafted and has developed into a bona fide offensive superstar.

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Conversely, van Riemsdyk took the collegiate route at the University of New Hampshire, and his growth appears to be stunted.

Philadelphia General Manager Paul Holmgren wondered the same when it looked like van Riemsdyk would play last year with the Wildcats.  He felt that playing his entire four-year would be a bad career decision and would curb the progression of his development.  It looks as though the two years that van Riemsdyk spent at UNH may have had that effect.

Moving forward

After signing a professional contract in the spring of 2009, van Riemsdyk played the last seven regular games with the American Hockey League’s Philadelphia Phantoms, scoring a goal and two points.  He also played four playoff contests with the Phantoms, but didn’t record any points or even any shots on goal.

With the recent call-up of Eric Wellwood from the Adirondack Phantoms, van Riemsdyk was placed on a line with Wellwood and Richards in the last two games.  Wellwood has often been the best player on that line, and van Riemsdyk hasn’t been a factor.

And you can see the lack of confidence in JVR’s game, and the resulting tightness as he grips the stick harder as he presses to do something positive.  Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, van Riemsdyk’s terrible giveaway at the offensive blue line as he tried to make something happen led to a breakaway goal by Patrick Dwyer.

Maybe the best course of action would be for the 21-year-old to spend some more time in the AHL.  And perhaps the time is now, before van Riemsdyk’s confidence slips any further.

David Strehle
NHLHS Philadelphia Flyers Correspondent
Twitter: @PhilaDAVEia