Why Van Riemsdyk Has The Edge

James van Riemsdyk is still battling for a spot in the Flyers' opening night lineup. He netted two goals last night in a 5-2 Flyers preseason win over Detroit.

If you knew nothing about James van Riemsdyk – his draft status, his amateur experience, his age or his statistics – you would probably glance over him as quickly as… David Laliberte.

He has nice size and a few tools, but for the most part, he isn’t completely developed yet. I think that is a fair assessment that even he would agree with.

My point here is that he isn’t David Laliberte. He is James van Riemsdyk.

He was drafted no. 2 overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, ahead of the likes of Sam Gagner, Jakub Voracek and David Perron. The other 28 guys drafted behind him in the 1st round have already logged a combined 604 NHL games in the two full seasons since the draft.

To make it hit home: Jon Kalinski was also drafted in the same year as van Riemsdyk. He fell all the way to the 6th round. He has played 12 more NHL games than van Riemsdyk AND he still played in the NCAA.

What’s the significance of all of these numbers? There is pressure for van Riemsdyk to make this team now and not in two months.

And finally, the pressure isn’t just coming from the front office or the coaching staff. It is coming from James himself. He has matured and grown – both physically and mentally – to challenge for a spot on the team.

It’s not necessarily fair to compare him with the players drafted before or after him; everyone matures at a different rate. But you can’t tell me that we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he was an undrafted free agent. No one would care.

With that said, I find it hard to believe that van Riemsdyk will not make this team out of camp – and that’s with those pressures aside.

He has shown consistently over the last 4 preseason games (in 7 days, I might add) that he can play at this level.

“I think we can all agree he’s close,” Flyers coach John Stevens said after last night’s practice. “I don’t think you can come in and do the things that he has done without being close.

“We’ve put him in a couple different situations, and he’s played very well, so we have decided that he’s ready. I think he’s been close all training camp, it’s just a matter of whether he’s ready.”

Stevens said that in order for van Riemsdyk to make the team, he needs to show now that he can earn at least 10-12 minutes per night in the regular season. That’s the threshold Stevens believes he needs to meet in order to continue to develop over the course of the season.

That would mean that van Riemsdyk needs to be one of the Flyers’ top 9 forwards. I think he has shown that he can be in that throughout the last week.

On Monday, Simon Gagne compared him to John LeClair. Last night, van Riemsdyk looked like LeClair in front of the net on the power play. He used his body, muscled out a spot and backhanded a rebound past Chris Osgood. It was vintage LeClair.

Later, he wristed a shot from the top of the circle over Osgood. It was beautiful.

He uses his body well in the corners – he now has the weight and strength to compete there – and he has good hands, which means he is good in quick situations.

There has been a lot of chatter over the past few days about whether Mika Pyorala will make the team out of camp. He has been a well rounded player so far. He looked great last night and he has looked the same in practice. My only issue is that he is inconsistent. Pyorala has looked good in some games but poor in others.

I know he is adjusting to the North American game, but this will be his 10th professional season! That is surprising.

With van Riemsdyk in the lineup, the Flyers would have the option of using Riley Cote or Dan Carcillo as a healthy scratch every night. Both players on this roster on any given night is redundant. They perform the same function.

I would not be afraid to send Pyorala to the Phantoms. He can always improve there, get adjusted to North America and come back. That enables the Flyers to keep eight defensemen. Danny Syvret has earned a spot on this team. And there are always injuries, especially to shot-blocking d-men.

Sending van Riemsdyk to Adirondack for seasoning admits that the Flyers have failed… not just in drafting but in their preparation since he signed his entry level deal on April 1.

The real truth is that they haven’t.


What do you think of the blog so far? Is there something that isn't here that you'd like to see? Do you have questions about a particular player or instance that you'd like answered? Send e-mail to seravaf@phillynews.com.