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A Tale of two JVR's

Meltzer dives into what's different about JVR now from his first stint with Flyers

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

By adding unrestricted free agent left winger James van Riemsdyk to the roster, the Flyers are a more offensively potent and deeper hockey team than they were prior to July 1. The five-year deal was a good fit for both sides. That is why van Riemsdyk chose the Flyers over a reported 11 other suitors. 

There is, of course, familiarity on both sides. The Flyers selected "JVR" with the second overall pick of the 2007 NHL Draft and he spent the first three seasons of his NHL career in Philadelphia. A few of van Riemsdyk's teammates from his previous stint are still with the Flyers. He played with Claude Giroux throughout his first tenure, while Sean Couturier (then a rookie), Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds were on the team by 2011-12.

van Riemsdyk said that a few of his old teammates, as well as a few other recent ex-Flyers, spoke to him about the organization and added to his desire to come back. 

"I heard from 'G' and I talked to Jake Voracek, as well. It was good. I did my homework in the situation to talk to guys that were still there, some guys that maybe are not there anymore but that were there recently, just to get a feel of where things are at. I have the comfortability with knowing a lot about the organization having played there in the past and having a lot of familiar faces still on the staff. That sense of comfortability is definitely there," van Riemsdyk said.

Video: James van Riemsdyk speaks after signing with Flyers

Make no mistake, however: the player's return to Philadelphia had nothing to do with reliving old times. For the Flyers, adding van Riemsdyk brings a proven NHL goal scorer who is still in his prime at age 29, and adds much-needed depth and finishing ability to the left wing on the upper portion of the lineup for the foreseeable future. 

"We're pretty comfortable with the start and the finish of the deal. If he was three or four years older, it'd be a little different. But we're very comfortable with this age group. He's a fit athlete, and he takes care of himself. We don't have concerns about the term," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. 

Although the overall scouting report on JVR's primary strengths and weaknesses as a player have not changed much over the years, his strengths are more well-developed as he found his identity at the NHL level over the course of his career. In particular, van Riemsdyk has blossomed into one of the NHL's most dangerous finishers at the side of the net. He knows where his "office" is and how to get there. As a young player, he was more tentative, and less assertive until he discovered what truly worked for him.

Twice, van Riemsdyk reached the 30-goal mark as a member of the Maple Leafs, and reached a single-season best 61 points in 2013-14. This past season, he bagged a career-high 36 goals in 81 regular season games and added three goals in Toronto's seven playoff games before the team was eliminated by the Boston Bruins. Overall, JVR has scored 20-plus goals five times in his NHL career, including during his 2nd NHL season in Philly, and scored 27-plus goals four times (all with Toronto).

"I've gotten some more experience. I think for me I got a big opportunity to expand my role in Toronto. It was just a different situation with the team when I got in there. I got a chance to do some different things. Playing more of a prominent role on a power play. Play some more minutes and stuff like that. I think I've been able to expand my game in that way which has been great. Again, overall style wise I think I'm still very similar. 

"I'm still a cerebral type of player who can skate well, have good offense instincts and can make the smart plays in all three zones. I think that's always been my forte as a player. I picked up those different experiences along the way, to be a more consistent version of that. The more you play the more you learn about the league and the more you learn about what you need to do to be successful," van Riemsdyk said.

Tweet from @NHLFlyers: WELCOME BACK, @JVReemer21!!The #Flyers have agreed to terms with free agent LW on a five-year contract. More info: https://t.co/N2eHBtKBTV pic.twitter.com/Qmd28y2EvF

The Flyers entered this offseason looking for a big left winger with goal-scoring ability and JVR is just that. He can also play center in a pinch (he's been experimented with in the middle in the past) but that is unlikely at this point of his career except in emergency. 

Above all, van Riemsdyk gives the Flyers a lot of different combination options, both at even strength and on the power play. Chemistry is never fully predictable -- players who seem to be a great fit on paper sometimes do not gel as linemates, while other times there are combos that do not seem well-matched that seem to click. Nevertheless, there is at least a solid possibility that van Riemsdyk could start out on an even strength line with Nolan Patrick in the middle and one of Voracek, Travis Konecny or Simmonds on the right wing.  

On the power play, JVR is a natural fit on the top unit and could either play a netfront role or a middle-slot shooting role. He is likely to start out on the first unit but Hextall said those decisions will be up to head coach Dave Hakstol and the coaching staff to determine during training camp and the preseason. 

"Hak, we've talked long and hard about it. We know James is very good net front. He's got great hands, he's got good size. We feel like with this addition on our power play, we can put out two really good units. It gives us another left shot, which we needed. We've got Patty, we've got Konecny, we've got the two young defensemen on the back end. So where everybody winds up, I don't know. That's one of those things you try in training camp, and there's a chemistry thing there. I don't know where that's going to shake out, but we feel pretty comfortable that our power play has taken a step here," Hextall said.

Off the ice, JVR has always been a solid citizen. He's affable, generally laid back, and gets along well with teammates and the media.

Adding van Riemsdyk alone does not complete the Flyers offseason agenda. Hextall indicated that he would still like to bolster the penalty kill and the veteran depth on the blueline, but term of contract is a key factor.

"We looked long and hard at what we had within, our guys in the minors, our guys with the big team that can be moved around. We've got two or three options there," Hextall said, indicating that if no one is deemed ready to move up from the AHL to claim an NHL job, a player such as Jordan Weal could shift from wing back to his natural center position. 

If need be, there is also the option of moving Giroux back to center. However, the Flyers captain is more likely to remain on left wing after coming off a career-best season. 

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