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Van Riemsdyk answering critics with fast start

Monday, 10.05.2009 / 9:32 AM / Rookie Watch

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

 
While some of the favorites for the 2010 Calder Trophy include John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, keep an eye on Philadelphia Flyers rookie forward James van Riemsdyk, the second pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, who has had an outstanding training camp and appears to have secured an opening-night roster spot.

"He just needs to keep doing what he's been doing," Flyers coach John Stevens said earlier in camp. "We were concerned about how competitive he could be in an NHL setting and he's certainly been all that and we hoped he would be. He has to show he can play without the puck. It's pretty obvious what he can do when he has the puck. We have to make sure he continues to get better without the puck, being responsible and working as hard as he does when he has the puck. ... He's gotten better each time out in an NHL setting."

He's answered a lot of those questions through his first two NHL games. He played just under 9 minutes in the season-opening 2-0 win in Carolina on Friday, but drew an assist on Mike Richards' power-play goal.

Against the Devils on Saturday, playing 35 miles north of his Middletown, N.J., hometown and in front of a huge contingent of friends and family members, he had 2 assists in the Flyers' 5-2 victory. He played more than 13 minutes and was a plus-3.

"It was cool playing in a place like this and coming back to New Jersey," van Riemsdyk said Saturday. "I'm sure there were a little over 100 members of my family and friends here, but I'll have to check the numbers."

Van Riemsdyk seemingly had disappeared from the NHL radar after being picked one spot after the Chicago Blackhawks took Patrick Kane, who went on to win the 2008 Calder. While Kane was winning NHL hardware, van Riemsdyk was playing two seasons at the University of New Hampshire.

The Flyers pressed van Riemsdyk to turn pro this time a year ago, but the Middletown, N.J. native felt he wasn't yet ready and there were things he still needed to learn while growing into his 6-foot-3 body.

"Coach (Dick) Umile really just wanted to see me compete for pucks. That's what they've been preaching here, is to make sure you battle for everything, compete, and work hard," van Riemsdyk said. "They stressed that during my two years at UNH and that definitely helped me become a more well-rounded player.

"They had me playing center last year which was a good adjustment for me, especially playing this solid. You have to know how to play every position if you want to succeed."

He had 11 goals and 34 points in 31 games as a freshman and 17 goals and a team-leading 40 points in 34 games last season. He also moved from left wing to center in his sophomore season while helping the Wildcats to the NCAA Final Eight.

At the end of the college season, van Riemsdyk joined the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms for seven regular-season games. He had a goal and an assist, but was scoreless in four Calder Cup playoff games.

Van Riemsdyk spent his summer on a weight-lifting program designed by Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin and went to camp at 210 pounds, up 10 pounds from the spring. In a two- goal performance against the Detroit Red Wings in a preseason game Sept. 22, van Riemsdyk showed good strength and displayed good skills with the puck in heavy traffic around the net.

"This kid's sick," Ian Laperriere, who scored off one of van Riemsdyk's assists Saturday, said of the rookie forward. "You don’t go second overall (in the draft) for no good reason. Being out west I didn't know who he was, but he had a great camp. He's doing stuff that veterans do. He doesn't have pressure to make the little plays. It's fun to see a kid with that much poise."

"I'm feeling more and more comfortable every game and I'm just trying to get better every game," van Riemsdyk said.

Stevens has played van Riemsdyk on a line with Claude Giroux and Darroll Powe so far this season. Stevens said he would closely monitor van Riemsdyk's minutes to keep him fresh for a full season. Having played less than 40 games a year the past two seasons, the Flyers will want to avoid the problem the Bruins encountered last season with Blake Wheeler, another player going directly from college to the pros, who faded in the late going.

Van Riemsdyk said he's excited to play with the speedy Giroux, the Flyers' first-round pick in 2006, and also from whom big things are also expected this season.

"He can find you anywhere on the ice. He puts it right on your tape," van Riemsdyk said. "I probably should have buried a couple more of his passes. He made some unbelievable plays. It's pretty cool playing with a guy like him."

The feeling is mutual, Giroux said.

"We only played a couple of games together. He's a really good player -- a great shot, great hockey sense and he really works hard," Giroux said. "It makes my job much easier when you play with guys like that.

"He's very good at getting open. I like to play with guys who can get open real fast and he's doing very good right now with that."

It's going to be interesting watching van Riemsdyk develop because he is a really nice young man who seeks a rugged, dirty job. He is very well mannered, polite and accommodating to fans and the media. He is ambitious and modest at the same time, but there is a quiet confidence about his toughness.

He listened quietly before the 2007 draft as a Chicago broadcaster talked about what a tough challenge it would be for a young power forward to break into a League as tough as the NHL. Could he handle the banging, the shoving and pushing and the inevitable fighting, he was asked.

Van Riemsdyk looked down at his erstwhile interrogator and smiled.

"I can handle myself," he assured him.

We saw the same confidence when he was asked if he can skate effectively with a player as fast as Giroux.

"I pride myself on being a big guy who can skate so I think I can keep up with him pretty well out there," van Riemsdyk said. "I just have to get to the open ice where he can find me and it's my honor just putting it in the back of the net."



Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery