As James van Riemsdyk makes his return to Philadelphia tonight, and as we quickly approach the halfway point of the season, what better time to look at JVR’s stay in Toronto so far. The young American was dealt to the Maple Leafs for Luke Schenn in the off-season and with Toronto’s track record for acquisitions in recent years, it would be hard to blame fans if they were less than optimistic.
Both van Riemsdyk and Schenn were top five draft picks taken in the 2007 and 2008 Drafts respectively. However, after the 2011-12 season it appeared van Riemsdyk still had some potential, while Schenn had peaked. The physical blueliner’s time in Toronto was marred by inconsistency and after four years, Leafs brass simply decided to move on.
It’s not that Schenn was terrible with the Leafs, but he was just decent. Being decent after getting selected fifth overall on an already mediocre team isn’t going to cut it unfortunately. When you are a struggling franchise like Toronto, you need to take advantage of getting to pick high in the draft. Otherwise you are destined to continue being one of the league’s bottom feeders.
So essentially the Leafs used a mulligan and traded one high draft pick for another. The organization hoped van Riemsdyk had some untapped resources still available after three seasons with the Flyers. And so far it looks as though Toronto may have gotten the better of the trade as the big power forward has not disappointed
Van Riemsdyk leads the team with 11 goals and his 15 points are tied for tops on the squad. In fact, he was only able to score 11 times all of last year in 43 games with Philadelphia. Although the solid goal scoring pace he is setting is all well and good, it’s the impact on the Leafs’ record that is most crucial. Toronto has a record of 11-8 and if you take into consideration the injuries to snipers Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul, van Riemsdyk’s production is one of the main reasons they have been able to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference.
The beauty of van Riemsdyk’s game is he is a no-nonsense goal scorer. He gets to the front of the net and scores many of his goals just a few feet away from the blue paint. It might sound like a weird comparison, but van Riemsdyk reminds me of Dave Andreychuk. Although van Riemsdyk is a much better skater and has a lot more high-end skill, like Andreychuk, he has a knack for playing around the net and knows how to use his size to his advantage. The puck often seemed to just naturally find Andreychuk’s stick near the goal, and van Riemsdyk also seems to have an innate ability to locate it around the cage.
If you were to evaluate the trade right now you would say the Leafs have certainly won. However, many times the real winner of a deal isn’t determined until a few years down the line. The challenge for van Riemsdyk will be to continue playing at this level consistently going forward. There is still plenty of work to be done, but he’s off to a great start.