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Familiarity fuels surge of Maple Leafs' van Riemsdyk

by Dan Rosen /

NEW YORK -- Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk credits his recent scoring surge to being reunited with center Tyler Bozak.

Van Riemsdyk has six goals and nine points in the eight games since he moved onto a line with Bozak and right wing PA Parenteau. He had seven goals and 16 points in the first 26 games playing primarily with center Nazem Kadri and right wing Leo Komarov.

It's working the other way too. Kadri has nine points, including three goals, since Michael Grabner replaced van Riemsdyk on his line. He had the same line (three goals, six assists, nine points) in the first 26 games of the season.

Toronto is 5-1-2 since coach Mike Babcock put van Riemsdyk and Bozak back together with Parenteau and united Kadri and Komarov with Grabner. It was 8-13-5 the other way.

"For whatever reason, we [van Riemsdyk and Bozak] just seem to find each other on the ice," said van Riemsdyk, who leads the Maple Leafs with 25 points and is second in goals with 13 in 34 games.

A big difference for van Riemsdyk is his shot total. He is averaging 4.88 shots on goal per game with Bozak in the past eight games after averaging 2.77 in his first 26 games with Kadri. He has had five or more shots on goal in five of the eight games.

Even van Riemsdyk sounded surprised at how his shot total has gone up in recent games.

"I've noticed that too, and I think it's a matter of the two guys I'm playing with are more pass-first kind of guys and it's my job to get open and get pucks to the net," van Riemsdyk said. "That's a product of that. I always try to be aggressive when I shoot. I want to get into a shooting area and just get it on net."

Babcock, though, still doesn't sound like a coach who is totally satisfied with the production he's getting from van Riemsdyk.

"He has a chance to be a real elite player in the League and he's gotta take responsibility for that skill set and each and every day and bring it everyday and be a leader that way," Babcock said. "There's a real challenge for the guys that have been blessed for a little bit more talent than the rest of the guys, to make sure it shows each and every night. He's one of those guys."

Van Riemsdyk said he gets that, and he appreciates how Babcock has pushed and prodded him in his first year as Toronto's coach.

"He's supported me and knows what I'm capable of," van Riemsdyk said.

Van Riemsdyk said the confidence he's gotten from Babcock has helped his overall game, which is why even though he wasn't scoring at a high pace earlier in the season he still felt he was playing the best hockey of his career.

Now he's getting the production to show for it.

"I just think two ways I've been playing really well," said van Riemsdyk, who is a plus-4 this season after being a minus-33 last season. "When we've been on the ice we've been controlling the play."

If he continues to do it, he'll continue to push a pace that would set him up to finish with career highs in goals and points. Van Riemsdyk, who has 13 goals, is currently on pace for 31 goals and 59 points. His career highs are 30 goals and 61 points (2013-14 season).

"This stretch, for the first 30 or so games, is the best hockey I've played in my career," van Riemsdyk said. "I want to keep pushing the envelope and that's good too."


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