Brian Burke likes his players big, strong and skilled. Toronto's general manager is convinced that's exactly what he got on Saturday when he dealt defenseman Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers for power forward James van Riemsdyk in a swap of two of the NHL's more talented young players.
Neither Schenn, the fifth player taken in the 2008 NHL Draft, nor van Riemsdyk, the No. 2 pick in 2007, has lived up to the hype that goes along with being a high draft pick. But Burke is confident that he's gotten a player who offers the mix of skills and size that he's been searching for.
"My focus since I got here has been to bring in players who can bring our skill level up," Burke said Saturday night during a media conference call a few hours after he and Flyers GM Paul Holmgren finally completed a trade that was months in the making. "He's not a big banger -- he's not the kind of player who's going to put guys through the glass. He's not a plow horse. This is a thoroughbred."
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, van Riemsdyk has the kind of size Burke covets. But he also has the soft hands and offensive skills that Burke hopes will make him a dominant power forward. Burke said he envisions van Riemsdyk on the wing, but that a final decision is up to coach Randy Carlyle.
"Where he plays and with whom he plays is up to the coach," Burke said. "From my perspective, we're not big enough up front, and this guy -- not that he plays huge or that he's a big banger, but he's a big body with skills, and those people are hard to eliminate. Randy will figure out where he plays. I envision him being in the top six and on one of the power-play units. This is a guy we think can help us a lot."
As happy as he was to land van Riemsdyk, Burke was sorry to give up Schenn, who stepped into the Leafs' lineup as an 18-year-old and never left. The 22-year-old scored twice and had 20 assists in 79 games last season. He has 14 goals and 61 assists in 310 career games. He joins his younger brother Brayden, a center who was a rookie this past season.
"I want to thank Luke for his hand work as a Leaf," Burke said. "We never had any issues with Luke as far as him as a person, a player, his work ethic, his approach to practice, his approach to games. He's a quality person and a good hockey player, and we thank him for the time he played here and wish him well with Philadelphia."
Burke also said he knew he wasn't going to get van Riemsdyk cheaply.
"You can't get quality in a trade without giving up quality -- Paul Holmgren's too smart for that," he said. "We had to put a good hockey player on the table to get a good hockey player. I think it's a trade that will benefit both teams. I think both these players have their best hockey in front of them. We're certainly hopeful that James will help us, and we're confident Luke will also help the Philadelphia Flyers.
"It's a treat for a player to be able to play with his brother, and I think Luke is going to do some good things for the Philadelphia Flyers.
For his part, Van Riemsdyk, who grew up near Philadelphia, said he's eager to get started with his new team and his new city.
"To go to a place like Toronto is unbelievably exciting for me," Van Riemsdyk said during a conference call. "Just the tradition they have there, the city, the fans it's all unbelievable and growing up a big-time Yankees fan, a good analogy for me is that it's like playing for the New York Yankees of the NHL."
Van Riemsdyk had his best season in 2010-11, when he scored 21 goals and 40 points in 75 games, then led the Flyers with seven goals in 11 playoff games. In three NHL seasons, he has 47 goals and 52 assists in 196 regular-season games.
"He did have a magical playoff a couple of years ago," Burke said. "He was a very high pick. He brings size, foot speed and skill. This is a guy we think can make a difference on our hockey team."
That's fine with van Riemsdyk, who said things just didn't work out in Philadelphia and added that he's looking forward to a fresh start with Toronto.
"Any time anyone gets drafted, they picture things perfectly," he said. "You imagine playing [in a city] for your whole career, winning a few Cups, but that's not the way things always work out. All I focus on is coming to the rink every day and working hard.
"Toronto has always been one of my favourite cities to come to in the League. Obviously there’s a great following, a great buzz. Anytime you’re playing, there’s that excitement in the air. Just an awesome hockey town. That’s something that will definitely be pretty exciting. I’m just hoping to be a piece of the puzzle to help maybe get things going in the right direction."
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