|Forward James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' top pick in 2007, feels confident in his decision to attend college before embarking on his budding hockey career.|
In addition to possessing eight skaters 25 or younger who saw significant time during the Stanley Cup playoffs this past spring, let's not forget that 2006 first-round draft pick Claude Giroux and 2007 first-rounder James van Riemsdyk are waiting in the wings.
Giroux, 20, was awarded the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the 2008 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Playoffs after posting 17 goals and 34 assists in 19 games as the Gatineau Olympiques captured the President Cup Trophy as QMJHL champions.
Van Riemsdyk, meanwhile, a power forward with a knack for protecting the puck, recently concluded his first season at the University of New Hampshire.
The 19-year-old lefty, who on May 9 skated with NHL Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine at the Ocean Ice Palace in Brick, N.J., to play for the Bud Ice All-Stars of the Brick Hockey Club against the NHL Alumni All-Stars, was grateful Holmgren allowed him to enter college to bolster his game.
"I guess my college decision was more of an issue before the draft when I was interviewing with teams and telling them my intentions of going to college," van Riemsdyk told NHL.com. "A lot of teams were suggesting I go either major junior or sign right away and maybe play in the American Hockey League, if not, try out and make the big club. But I was set on going to New Hampshire because I felt that experience would help me in the long run."
Van Riemsdyk helped lead New Hampshire to an NCAA Tournament berth for the sixth straight season, finishing third on the team with 34 points on 11 goals and 23 assists in 31 games. He was named Hockey East's Rookie of the Month for January and March. He also finished tied for fourth in the Hockey East Tournament with five points and was a Hockey East All-Rookie team selection.
Unlike Giroux, who started his career by signing with Gatineau as a free agent after playing in the Central Junior A League, van Riemsdyk opted for the collegiate route which has benefited him tremendously.
"Players today come out of junior hockey, European hockey and college," Holmgren told NHL.com. "James is a good young player who has tremendous upside and will someday be a good, solid NHL player. To what level he plays at is mostly going to be up to him so I don't think it really matters where he's developing. This past year, I think he represented himself pretty well as a true freshman at UNH."
Van Riemsdyk does, indeed, feel more confident on the ice following one season of collegiate hockey.
"I definitely feel like I've improved, especially in the defensive zone, where I'm a lot more comfortable and stronger," van Riemsdyk said. "The experience I've gained at UNH in my first season will definitely help me in the long run."
Fellow New Jersey native, Jim Dowd, a 16-season NHL veteran, was in a similar situation as van Riemsdyk after being drafted by the Devils the summer prior to his leaving for Lake Superior State. Dowd remained in college four seasons before joining New Jersey's then-American Hockey League affiliate, Utica, in 1991.
"It's entirely up to James and, really, what the situation is," said Dowd, an eighth-round pick of the Devils in 1987. "He was the second overall pick in the draft so his situation is a little different than mine. They tried to get me to come out after my junior year of college, but I decided against that since I was having such a great time playing college hockey. He's a big, strong player with skill, so he certainly knows where he's at as far as conditioning goes."
Holmgren certainly knew what he was getting when he tabbed the 6-foot-3, 200-pound native of Middletown, N.J., right after Chicago selected this season's Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane first overall.
"At this point, I do think most of his development is physical since he'll continue to grow," Holmgren said. "He's a maturing young man and, right now, still capable of getting physically bigger and stronger. He'll attend our evaluation camp (July 18-27) and, because he's not that far away, can spend a lot of time in our training facility working with our other young players."
"They were definitely one of the better stories in the League this year," van Riemsdyk said. "To go from last place to the conference final in just one season says a lot about the organization. They don't accept losing and they'll do whatever they can to build a successful winner while doing it the right way.
"I like the way they look to their own guys and then get the extra pieces along the way," he continued. "They've been fun to watch. The players are highly skilled and possess a lot of speed. They drove a lot of these other playoff teams crazy with their style."
Van Riemsdyk has skated the last two seasons for the United States National Team Developmental Program, leading the Under-18 Team in scoring this season with 63 points (33 goals) in 42 games. He won a silver medal at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, posting nine points in seven games, and was a member of the gold-medal winning U-18 team at the World Championships in 2005-06. In January, he was the leading scorer in U-20 World Junior Championships with 11 points.
"In the NHL you must be able to play at both ends of the ice to really become an elite player in the League and that's one area I really want to work on and keep getting better at so that I'm not considered a let down in my own end," van Riemsdyk said. "Once I take care of my own end, I can have some fun on offense."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.