The worst kept secret in all of hockey finally became a reality.
Luke Schenn is now a Philadelphia Flyer, and James Van Riemsdyk is finally a Toronto Maple Leaf.
JVR (whose name I’ll probably never type in full again) was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft and has had a slow, but upwards, trend in his development since. After getting drafted he returned to New Hampshire, where he played college hockey, and threw up 40 points in 36 games along with 10 points in six world junior games. He ended that season playing some AHL games, but jumped straight to the NHL the following year and put up a respectable 35 points in 78 games. The next year he had five more points in three less games well also breaking the 20 goal barrier by notching 21.
His big breakout moment though was in the playoffs of last year when he put up seven goals in 11 playoff games while single- handedly dominating some games. To put it into perspective, he had 70 shots throughout those playoffs. That’s over six shots a game. In the playoffs.
This season JVR finished with 24 points in an injury-riddled 43 games, but even with that he was still on pace to improve his totals once again as that prorates to a 45 point season.
So on the surface, he’s an offensive player with a high pedigree that’s improved every season and shown flashes of dominance in big games. He’s also 6’3 and listed at 200 pounds (which seems a little low, but we’ll go with it). Now it’s well known that Van Riemsdyk isn’t exactly a bone-crushing power forward, but here’s the thing:
Size is size.
What that means, basically, is that even though he doesn’t lay the body consistently considering his size, he can still use it to protect the puck, cycle down low and create in-zone offense.
Those are things the Leafs struggled to do all season. The run-and-gun approach worked well for awhile as Kessel, Lupul et al really scored the majority of their goals off the rush, but when crunch time came and teams started clamping down as the season went on, the Leafs struggled to score (and play defense, and get goaltending to be fair), so JVR does give them something they were lacking.
At the end of the day, this isn’t rocket science; the Leafs have an abundance of defencemen and a lack of skilled forwards with size. Does this one trade change all of that? No. But you have to start somewhere and hopefully this really is just the beginning.
When the Leafs locked up John Michael Liles, I wrote at the time that it was a signal of the Leafs changing philosophies at defense and putting more of an emphasis on mobility from the back end. This weekend has only furthered that. From that original re-signing, to the selections of Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn, and now to this trade, it’s all pretty clear to see what kind of defense the Leafs are trying to build now.
In terms of JVR, it’s fair for us to look back at my article profiling how Burke and Carlyle employ their forwards. Essentially, as long as Lupul is here he’s playing with Kessel on the top line. That means JVR is either going to play on the shutdown line paired with Nikolai Kulemin or on the scoring line with, most likely, Matt Frattin.
Either way, that’s a tandem of size. All of a sudden you look at the Leafs wingers and see Lupul, Kulemin, Frattin, Brown and JVR and there seems to be a bit more size and spunk to the group. It’s not perfect, but it’s a process.
In Anaheim Carlyle started Dustin Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on their third line and slowly developed them until they were ready to take the reigns and lead the team. I suspect we’ll see the same sort of process with JVR now. If all goes well and JVR really begins to breakout next season, the Leafs are going to become a match-up nightmare with other teams if they have Kessel and Lupul on one line, Grabovski and a (hopefully rebounding) Kulemin on another line, and JVR leading another scoring line.
When Matt Mistele looked at Burke’s interview a few weeks ago about the business of hockey there was something in that interview that sort of fell through the cracks. It was Burke saying that the old model was top six-bottom six, but now it’s more of a top eight-bottom four.
What that means more than anything is that Burke and Carlyle really play the heck out of their top eight guys, and then give minimal ice time to their fourth line and bottom players. This is something we have already pointed for those who have been paying attention.
Essentially, everyone is looking to find out whether this trade is a win or a loss. The truth is, however, that we wont know for quite some time. Did the Leafs just trade a guy who could possibly become a top four defenceman for the next 15 years for a 40 point player? Or did Philadelphia just trade a 70-80 point winger with size for a third pairing defenceman? Or is it somewhere in-between? Time will tell with all of that.
But right now, if you’re the Leafs, you traded a guy who was struggling on your third pairing pretty well all year for a player who is already good enough to be part of your “top eight.” That’s really the bottom line right now. Everything else is just pure speculation, hope, or just incorrect.
This is just the start of the off-season for Burke. There’s still work to be done.