Our next Player Review takes a look at one of the newest members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, James van Riemsdyk. Acquired in exchange for Luke Schenn on June 23rd, 2012, the former second overall choice in 2007 was brought in to augment the forward corps with skill, enhanced size and net-front presence.  His regular season stats (18G 14A) were good for third in team-scoring, putting him on pace for 55 points (31G 24A) in an 82-game season, and he went on to lead the team in playoff scoring (2G, 7A).

Still only 24 years old,  JVR has yet to reach his ceiling. In a season where he rode shot-gun with three different centers, this was a break-out season and, in my mind, he solidified himself as a part of the Leafs’ core group going forward.

Entering the 2012-13 campaign, many wanted to test JVR at the center position next to Kessel and Lupul, despite Burke’s repeated statements that he viewed the Middleton, NJ native as a winger. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, Carlyle deployed JVR along the left wing and in front of the net, with the latter skill requiring additional time and coaching.  This comes as no surprise since, prior to arriving in Toronto, JVR was scoring goals from outside of the “dirty areas”. I decided to go back and watch every goal he had ever scored and track their respective locations. Blue dots represent goals scored as a Maple Leaf and orange dots represents goals scored as a Flyer, from 2009 to 2012.

2009-13: Goals Scored by Position (Regular Season and Playoffs)

Goal Locations (2009-2013)

As you can tell, JVR was receptive to Carlyle’s suggestion and showed a willingness to spend more time in front of the crease.  This sort of development and receptivity should excite Leafs fans since it shows that this young player is capable of learning and improving.

Now, one of the knocks on him in Philadelphia was that he wasn’t physical enough and didn’t fully utilize his size. Let’s just say it now – van Riemsdyk is never going to be as gifted as Nash, nor will he be as physical as Lucic, but he is a power-forward in his own right, he grew into that position this season, and used his size and strength to capitalize on opportunities. There were also concerns about his consistency, and although there were some dry patches they are incomparable to the some of the month-long slumps he endured in Philadelphia. If anything, van Riemsdyk needs to get stronger and consistently look for opportunities at the front of the net, all of which can be improved upon with a strong off-season, increased chemistry with his teammates, and a greater commitment to playing his role.

JVR’s playoff performance was also something to behold as he rose to the occasion, potting the graceful game-winning goal in Game 2 and scoring at a point-per-game clip. As remarkable as Phil Kessel’s performance was against the Bruins in the playoffs, it should be noted that both Kessel and JVR were pointless against the Bruins during the regular season. However, consider JVR’s season splits versus these Eastern Conference playoff teams:

Season Splits

Needless to say, JVR is a player who excels against the top teams, which bodes well for a Maple Leafs team that aspires to another playoff berth next year. In fact, leading into the playoffs, JVR was tied with Lupul for the most playoff games played (39GP) on the team and he delivered. With a $4.250M cap hit that carries him into the 2017-2018 season, JVR’s potential as a 65-point winger comes at a nice price and he should be a mainstay in the Leafs top-6 in the years ahead.

So, when I look back at James van Riemsdyk’s season, I see growth in his game, but also a fair bit of untapped potential. Generally speaking, it was a successful campaign and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares over the full 82 games next season.

Plays of the Year:

JVR (1) – Luke Schenn (0):

JVR with some sick hands while in tight against the net, also against his former team:

JVR closes the gap and crushes Malkin.

One of the best Leaf goals of the season in Game 2 against the Bruins:

RATE THIS PLAYER: Out of 10, rate James van Riemsdyk’s season relative to his role, opportunity/deployment and the expectations for the player entering the season. Be sure to back it up.

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