James van Riemsdyk
today is displaying the strength, speed and skills that made the Philadelphia Flyers
select him with the No. 2 pick of the 2007 Entry Draft.
"He's been really good," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
said recently. "When his feet are moving and he's being physical and driving the way he does, good things are happening offensively for him. And that's nice to see at this time of the year."
The key part of his statement is the final five words. Because the van Riemsdyk the Flyers are seeing at the end of the 2010-11 season is a 180-degree difference from the one seen at this time a year ago.
At the end of last season, van Riemsdyk looked to be out of gas. The 20-year-old had just 2 goals in his final 21 regular-season games, and his play dragged into the postseason.
Van Riemsdyk said he felt fine physically, but said the mental and emotional grind of the regular season -- and honestly, there was nothing "regular" about the Flyers' 2009-10 season -- wore on him.
"It's tough for a young player to come in, especially going through what we did last year," Flyers captain Mike Richards
told NHL.com. "It could be overwhelming."
"He recognized the pace of the game, and not only from the speed standpoint but from the physicality standpoint. He certainly has the frame to become a big, strong player. He certainly has the speed to play at a high level and pace."
-- Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on James van Riemsdyk
And van Riemsdyk certainly appeared overwhelmed at times. He went scoreless in his first 11 playoff games, and then was a healthy scratch for Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
It was obvious during the summer that van Riemsdyk, who is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, needed to get stronger.
"He recognized the pace of the game, and not only from the speed standpoint but from the physicality standpoint," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren
told NHL.com. "He certainly has the frame to become a big, strong player. He certainly has the speed to play at a high level and pace. It was just recognizing that and what are you going to do about that."
Van Riemsdyk spent the summer working hard, but his play didn't quite match up at the beginning of the season. In his first 13 games, he had just 4 assists, which earned him four games in the press box as a healthy scratch.
"You get to this level, it's all about consistency," said Holmgren. "It's playing hard all the time. Young guys more often than not don't get it right away. I don't think James is any different. He's a good kid. He's a sponge when it comes to listening to what the coaches want him to do and he's worked hard to be a more consistent player."
Van Riemsdyk didn't score a goal until his 18th game, but he's done pretty well since then. He has 21 goals in his past 58 games and, most importantly, he's scoring them in greater numbers as the season has progressed. His 9 goals since the All-Star break are second on the team and he had his first NHL hat trick March 26 against the Islanders.
More than the numbers, though is he just looks faster and far more comfortable on the ice now than a year ago.
"He's just becoming smarter," said Richards, a frequent linemate. "I think he was able to do that before; it just was him not having the confidence to hold onto the puck and be aware of where the defensemen were and taking it to the net. Confidence is a big thing for a hockey player. When you have it, you can do a lot of good things. When you have the size like him, you can do even more things."
It is a realization that is suddenly dawning on van Reimsdyk as another postseason approaches.
"I'm a year more experienced, a year stronger, a year more mature," said van Riemsdyk. "I think it just comes with knowing how to handle this time of year. There (were) a lot of experiences last year; I was getting my feet wet a little bit, too. My play was a little inconsistent at this time of year. I feel a lot better about my game right now. I think -- night in and night out -- I've been playing a pretty strong game."
And that's what the Flyers need if they hope to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight season.
"This year we're hoping it takes the same shape as Claude Giroux
did last year, where you're learning and you're getting your experience through the course of the year," Laviolette told NHL.com, speaking of Philadelphia's breakthrough forward during the 2009-10 season. "When the playoffs hit you become an impact player. He's taking strides in showing he can do that at the end of the year."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK