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Staying Close to Home

by Kevin Kurz / Philadelphia Flyers
Click below to watch or listen to Flyers radio voice Tim Saunders speaking one-on-one with the club's first round draft pick, James vanRiemsdyk.

Interview with Tim Saunders (video):

Interview with Tim Saunders (audio):

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New Jersey native vanRiemsdyk joins Flyers in 2007 Entry Draft

(Columbus, OH, June 22) – For Middletown, New Jersey native James vanRiemsdyk, the comparisons to a certain former Flyer came relatively quickly. After all, it’s not that long ago that Philadelphia had a big, goal-scoring American winger on its team.

“It’s just an honor to be compared to [John LeClair],” said vanRiemsdyk, after being chosen second overall by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. “He’s a hockey legend. It would be nice to have a career like he’s had.”

Although it’s a little early to be comparing him to a probably future Hall-of-Famer like LeClair, vanRiemsdyk appears to have all of the tools to be successful. Along with his size (6’4’’, 200-pounds at just 18 years old), vanRiemsdyk is a good skater with a knack for the net. He handles the puck well, and can play in virtually any situation according to many scouting reports.
James vanRiemsdyk

After being announced as the Flyers’ pick by Commissioner Gary Bettman, vanRiemsdyk got a loud ovation from many of his high school friends that made the nine-hour drive from the East Coast. Several of them are attending Philadelphia-area schools next year like St. Joseph’s and Villanova, said vanRiemsdyk, who will be a freshman at the University of New Hampshire in the fall.

Although he hails from New Jersey, vanRiemsdyk spent the previous three seasons with the United States Development Program. It was a decision that helped catapult his draft status.

“If it wasn’t for that, I would probably still be playing New Jersey high school hockey and club,” he said. “That was a big calling for me, and put off a light bulb in my head that if I want this dream, I’ve got to go for it and this is the best way. It was an easy decision when I laid it all out.”

He left home as a 15-year-old to join the program.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I realized that. I had to convince my parents a little bit to let me go, but I was pretty set on going when I was offered a spot on the team.”

vanRiemsdyk had an idea that he might end up with Philadelphia, based on interviews he had with the Flyers brass.

“I had a pretty strong feeling about the Flyers, but you never really know until draft day,” he said. “They said they really liked how I played and I remind them a lot about some of their former players. When I remind them of players they’ve had in the past, I’m sure that’s a good sign.”

Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren has been following vanRiemsdyk for several years now.

“I saw him a little bit last year and a little more this year, but he just continues to get better for our staff as the year went on,” said Holmgren. “I think he’s a skilled player that happens to be big. I think [his size] is going to help him more than hinder him.”

Chicago had the first overall selection, and chose Buffalo native Patrick Kane. With the selection of vanRiemsdyk, the Flyers helped to make history as it marked the first time that American-born players were chosen first and second overall.

“That’s really amazing, and it shows how American hockey is taking huge strides and this is another big step for American hockey,” said vanRiemsdyk. “It’s a complete honor and I’m really happy to be a part of that.”

“I think it speaks volumes about their development program,” said Minnesota-native Holmgren. “I think it’s been in the works for 10 years.”

The decision was admittedly not an easy one for Holmgren. He and his staff had vanRiemsdyk, Kane and Kyle Turris ranked ahead of the rest of the potential first-round draft picks. Still, they ended up with the guy they targeted.

“All three of these kids were very close. Very close. We’d have been happy with any of them, but you have to make a decision and James ended up on top,” said Holmgren.

None of the players in this year’s draft class are projected to end up in the NHL next year, and that includes vanRiemsdyk. For now, he will continue to work on his game at New Hampshire with the long-term goal of cracking the Flyers lineup in a couple of years.

Not bad for a kid from Jersey.
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