The Philadelphia Flyers signed left wing James van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal worth, $35 million in the offseason. Has he been a disappointment so far this season? Yes, but it looks as though he is getting back on track and finding his way under Head Coach Scott Gordon.
In his last five games played, van Riemsdyk has six goals, two assists and eight points. He has seen his ice time increase to around 18:00 per game. The left winger just looks more comfortable with his line mates and playing in the top six. Van Riemsdyk is playing with confidence and that is resulting in some points and wins for the Flyers, who entered the bye week on a three game winning streak.
A big reason why his game looks so much better is that he is healthy and finally in game shape. He was injured during the second game of the season when he was hit in the leg with a clearing attempt. Van Riemsdyk missed the rest of the game on October 6th against the Colorado Avalanche and didn’t return to the lineup until November 15th against the New Jersey Devils.
There was no conditioning stint in the minors so he was not really in game shape even though he had been skating and practicing. When van Riemsdyk returned to the lineup he was thrown right into the fire playing consistent third line minutes and seeing power play time. Practicing doesn’t necessarily mean that a team is going full speed because they’re playing against one another and they certainly don’t want to injure their own teammate. It should have been expected that it would take some time for him to get back to game level, but some fans didn’t think it would take this long after the return.
Yes, this is his second time with the Flyers, but the whole team including the system is completely different. The first go around he was a young kid and he sorely lacked defensive abilities, but was able to get away with it because of his goal scoring ability. In Toronto, he was playing third line minutes and rarely had to play much defense because the top two lines went against the opposition’s better players. Van Riemsdyk was used as more of an offensive depth threat than a defensive player in his six seasons with the Maple Leafs.
JvR was in a similar situation under former Head Coach Dave Hakstol in that he was playing third line minutes and seeing some power play time. The difference was that after van Riemdyk signed the five year deal in the offseason, he expected to be in the top six forward rotation, but for whatever reason that just didn’t happen under Hakstol, who was eventually fired. Scott Gordon took over for Hakstol and he has reunited JvR with a familiar face in Claude Giroux.
Giroux and van Riemsdyk were teammates early in their careers and developed some chemistry, but the impatience of Ed Snider and the Flyers organization traded van Riemsdyk to the Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn. The chemistry took some time to come back, but in the past five games or so the chemistry has really been visible between the two and Travis Konecny. The stability and familiarity has clearly made an impact on the play of van Riemsdyk, who has steady linemates for the first time this season.
The line of van Riemdyk, Giroux and Konecny can cause some fits for teams since there is a combination of goal scoring, playmaking and speed on the line. The line is good in transition, which has helped van Riemsdyk get some goals, but each member can also put the puck in the net. JvR knows that he just needs to go to the net or be around the net when those two are on the ice to get some goals or scoring chances since both guys are decent passers, though they will take the shot if available.
The left winger finally knows his role and what is expected of him in Gordon’s system. He knows that he needs to go hard towards the net because when he’s doing that he usually has a decent game. If he’s around the net, he may take some punishment but he can also deflect some pucks or get rebound chances. Van Riemsdyk wasn’t going to the net when he returned and that really affected his play and he wasn’t getting chances. He also knows that in Gordon’s system he needs to be aware defensively and play up to his ability or he could be dropped back down in the lineup.
In his past five games, he has actually seen some time on the ice when the Flyers have been up by a goal or two in the late minutes of the game. If he keeps playing this way, then the points will start going up and he could help the Flyers go on a potential run after the All Star Break.