Toronto Maple Leafs Player Preview: James van Riemsdyk

James van Riemsdyk may have only played half of a season last year, but it might have been his best as a Toronto Maple Leafs player.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk had 18 points in his last 19 games during 2016-2017. He was in a groove and playing some of the best all-around hockey of his life.

The change in play by van Riemsdyk from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 was pretty impressive. There wasn’t much that didn’t change in the positive for van Riemsdyk. As unfortunate as his injury was – as is any injury to a player – it certainly helped the Toronto Maple Leafs tank.

The most noticeable change for JVR was his most common forward partners. In 2014-2015 he spent the majority of his time with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. Last season he spent most of his time skating with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov – both more possession driven players.

That switched proved valuable for JVR as his 5v5 P60 went up from 1.54 to 1.74 and his goals per 60 minutes from 0.69 to 0.84. Both are great jumps.

His CF60 and CA60 did a near complete reversal.

He was a much, much better possession player this past season and it translated to more points at evens – just as you’d expect more chances for would do.

Such a drastic switch in play definitely wasn’t expected for van Riemsdyk, but it’s a welcome change for sure. At 27 years old, he didn’t just wake up and become a significantly better 5v5 player. This is heavily credited to Mike Babcock and the linemate change.

Most impressive isn’t the positive offensive swing. It’s the fact that in 2014-2015, with JVR on the ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed 10.98 more shot attempts against per 60 minutes. In 2015-2016 they allowed 3.97 less shot attempts against per 60 minutes. That’s a difference of 14.95 shot attempts.

So, since he hasn’t been dealt as of posting, what can we expect from James van Riemsdyk in 2016-2017?

I’d wager much of the same solid play that he produced last year. He’s an impact player for the Toronto Maple Leafs and under Babcock’s control he’s turned into an all-around positive hockey player.

With how well he played with Nazem Kadri he should find himself partnered up with the newly extended center. He may also find himself lined up with Auston Matthews. Either would be great choices and should produce good numbers.

James van Riemsdyk should be one of the Toronto Maple Leafs best players in 2016-2017, like he has been in previous years. With that, he should build up his trade value and give the Toronto Maple Leafs some decisions to make.

He’s a very good player on a very team friendly contract. He’s a legitimate top line winger that can help any teams top six group. If the Toronto Maple Leafs make him available then he should generate plenty of interest.

Given his age, next contract assumed dollar demands, and the direction of this hockey club the Leafs should entertain any and all conversations involving James van Riemsdyk.

As valuable of a player as he is, the best value for the Toronto Maple Leafs likely lies in dealing him. Regardless of what they do, he’s being set up for maybe his best season yet.

*all stats via Corsica Hockey