Did 2014 Olympics Prove Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk Are an Elite NHL Duo?

James OnuskoContributor IIIFebruary 25, 2014

USA forward James van Riemsdyk, defenseman Cam Fowler and USA forward Phil Kessel celebrate a goal by Fowler in the second period of a men's ice hockey game against Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Petr David Josek/Associated Press

With the 2014 Olympics beginning to fade into memory, attention turns back to NHL play and what should be a captivating finish to the 2013-14 regular season.

When last we left you, the Toronto Maple Leafs had won seven of their last 10 games, were on a two-game winning streak and were within one point of third place in the Eastern Conference.

Jonathan Bernier, Dion Phaneuf and Nazem Kadri were playing some great hockey, but Americans Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were also playing some of their best hockey of 2013-14.

While the two aren't a classic duo in that they are not a centre-wing combination, they play the bulk of their minutes together and often contribute to the other's scoring chances.

They also played a lot of minutes together in Sochi along with San Jose Sharks centre Joe Pavelski. They formed one of the best lines at the Winter Olympics despite the team falling short of a medal.

Let's take a look at how these two compare to some of the other top duos in the game based on NHL play this year. Keep in mind that this list is not meant to be exhaustive.

Top Offensive NHL Duos in 2013-14
DuoGoalsAssistsPointsCombined +/-
Kessel/van Riemsdyk5557112+0
Stamkos/St. Louis394079+26

It becomes apparent very quickly that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, along with Anaheim's Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, have had excellent years along with their teams. Kyle Okposo and John Tavares of the Islanders have also had exceptional offensive years.

Injuries have affected at least three duos with Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos being the pair most affected. Stamkos was having a very good year prior to injury.

In terms of attacking duos, there seems to be no question that James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel belong in this group based on these basic numbers.

We know the limitations of plus/minus ratings, but in this case it's an indicator that both players have played some decent defensive hockey this season. As with the rest of the Maple Leafs, though, they are on the ice for more shots against than for, which needs to change.

It's an area of their game that needs to improve if the duo is to be considered in the same rarefied air as Toews and Hossa, or Getzlaf and Perry, in terms of a commitment to two-way play.

The duo was excellent at the Olympic hockey tournament. They were easily the biggest offensive threat for the United States with a combined 15 points. Joe Pavelski had five points and no other American player had more than four points.

Against the best in the world, van Riemsdyk and Kessel were dynamite.

While not often included in the discussion as being one of the league's elite duos, it would seem that they should be right in the middle of that conversation given their NHL and Winter Olympics play this season.

If they continue to produce at these offensive levels, there is every reason to believe that the Leafs have nothing to worry about in the offensive zone when these two are on the ice.