In a Leaf era fraught with frustration and mistrust, nobody brought forth these feelings in fans more than Luke Schenn over the past couple years. After what many would call a promising start, Schenn’s career became known more for blunders than smart defensive plays. Though I have written on how Schenn’s stats seem to indicate underlying problems in his defensive game, I will admit that the goalies in Toronto have made everyone look bad lately. Brian Burke eventually saw what the fans saw in Schenn, trading him for James van Riemsdyk, another young player who had been somewhat soured in management (though that was due to injuries).

Will there be a 2012-13 season? Probably not. Will I do a ‘What to Expect’ for van Riemsdyk anyway? Absolutely. Come with me on a journey down the rabbit hole of advanced statistics.

Keeping Pace

Season Team GP G A PTS PIM
09/10 PHI 78 15 20 35 30
10/11 PHI 75 21 19 40 35
11/12 PHI 43 11 13 24 24

If we were to stretch his 2011/12 totals to the previous year’s 75 games played, we’d get 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points. His keeping pace could be construed as negative for a growing player, but this is not necessarily the case as we will see soon enough. What we’re seeing here is a player hovering around 40 points a year if injuries don’t impede him, which for someone who only recently turned 23 is a very good thing. A positive Corsi will endear him to the Leafs, a team which is in need of anyone that can take the puck as far away from their goalies as possible.

In other areas, van Riemsdyk manages to stay positive. His blocked shots (18) and takeaways (17) are both fine if we stretch them out to an 82 game season (34BkS/32TkA). He was on pace for 71 hits before his season ending injury last season, which indicates that while he’s no intimidating presence, he at least doesn’t shy away from physicality. As for shooting, van Riemsdyk does a lot of it:

He’s pretty all over the place. His goals are not, however. You’ll notice that most of them come within a few feet of the crease, with a very large cluster of shots surrounding them. This is a very good thing. If he plays with Bozak/Connolly/Kessel, he’ll be a great foil to their board play. If he plays with Grabovski, the two of them can charge to the net in the same play, much like Grabo did with Kulemin in 2010/11. Either way, he plays a style of offensive pressure that is an asset to any line you put him on.

A Guide to James van Riemsdyk’s Offensive Future

Season Corsi REL On-ice Sh% On-Ice Sv% PDO Off. Start % Off. Fin %
09/10 8.1 7.16 .917 989 58.8 48.9
10/11 0.5 9.54 .927 1022 52.6 51.7
11/12 3.1 7.53 .903 978 60.7 52.1

Corsi REL = Corsi rating relative to the rest of his team; On-ice Sh% = team shooting percentage when player is on the ice; On-ice Sv% = team save percentage when player is on the ice; PDO = addition of on-ice save and shooting percentages (ex. 75.3 + 903 = 978.3); Off. Start % = percentage of shifts started in the offensive zone; Off. Finish % = percentage of shifts ending in the offensive zone; All stats are at even strength

James van Riemsdyk’s Corsi rating has fluctuated rather wildly in his three year career. Strangely enough, his lowest total comes in 2010/11, when he primarily played with Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter. No negative seasons however, clearly a good sign for someone in the age range of 20-23 during that time. His positive play could jump start the Grabovski line, which primarily suffered from the baffling downward spiral that was Nikolai Kulemin’s 2011/12 season.

Eric Tulsky over at Broad Street Hockey wrote a wonderful piece about James van Riemsdyk’s shooting back in February. Though his shots per 60 has increased by 22%, his shooting percentage was far lower than the previous season. This was the result of random fluctuations which are exceedingly common in the NHL due to low sample sizes for shots on goal. If we were to conflate this with van Riemsdyk’s extremely low PDO, we can come to an interesting conclusion. At its core PDO is a “luck” stat which accounts for lower than average totals in shooting and save percentages. His 978 PDO this season is a career low, which indicates that his underlying play is better than his stats show. If he had a “down” season while also keeping offensive pace with his previous seasons, we can reasonably assume that van Riemsdyk could see a jump up in production. To further this, his frequent linemates this season were Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, which are not preferable to who he played with the year prior.

James van Riemsdyk was given the highest percentage of offensive zone starts among forwards on Philadelphia this season. While it certainly indicates a propensity for offensive flair, it also shows that he’s not expected to be defensively sound. His -8.6% difference in starts/finishes also reflects poorly on his ability to leave the ice with the pressure still on. Generally, if a forward is not good defensively, I agree with the idea of very high offensive zone starts. It’s the future of coaching strategy as the 50/50 splits of the past become fading memories. This will certainly be the case under the tutelage of Randy Carlyle.

Odds and Ends

Before wrapping up, let’s take a look at some of the leftover bits of info we can scrounge up. Penalties seems to be a problem when van Riemsdyk is on the ice, as he took slightly more penalties than he drew (1.2/60 to 1.1/60), though the team took fewer than they drew with him on the ice (5.7/60 to 6.5/60). Four of his eleven goals this season came when Philly was tied with their opponent, one came when they were trailing by one and three more came when they were leading by one. Seems he’s a big moment scorer. 20.8% of his points came on the powerplay this season and this is unlikely to change in Toronto, where he will see significant time when on a man advantage.

What Others are Saying about James van Riemsdyk

“… he’s shown a lot of progress this year and only a drop in shooting percentage luck is holding him back.” – Eric Tulsky, Broad Street Hockey

“… the Leafs exchanged a contract for a minus player to a contract for a plus player.” – Cam Charron, The Leafs Nation

“He brings size, foot speed, skill and this is a guy we think can make a difference on our hockey team.” – Brian Burke


Photo: Getty Images

The question is where van Riemsdyk fits in the Leafs‘ lineup. I’m choosing to ignore the “move him to center” discussion that will culminate in maybe two shifts at center before Carlyle makes the right decision and puts him back on the wing. The obvious fit is supplanting Kulemin on Grabovski’s line. I wouldn’t mind one of Frattin or Kadri as the third player on that line. Kadri especially would be a nice fit, seeing as he’s a perimeter guy with exceptional passing ability. If Lupul stumbles out of the gate, which is possible, van Riemsdyk could get the call on the first line and would do well there. Either way, he should get significant playing time. As for the trade, at worst we got a 40 point forward for a defenceman who seemed to be going nowhere in this city. Schenn could certainly bounce back in a new environment, but trading him was a net positive even in that scenario. I for one can’t wait to see van Riemsdyk score his first goal as a Leaf.

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