The Time Is Now: Van Riemsdyk Must Take Step Forward in 2010

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IJuly 26, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  James van Riemsdyk #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers selected promising Middletown, N.J. product James van Riemsdyk with the second overall pick.

The Flyers finished the season as the worst team in the National Hockey League, as they collected only 56 points—the lowest amount of points in franchise history.

With a 22-48-12 record, the Flyers were in prime position to acquire a franchise player with the top draft choice, if they were to win the lottery.

Unlike other professional sport draft lotteries, the NHL works a little differently to assure that the worst team gets the top pick, or, at worst, the second pick.

The 30th team in the standings gets a 25% chance of obtaining the No. 1 pick; the Flyers finished 30th in the 2006-07 season.

However, winning an embarrassing 22 games wasn't enough to secure the top pick for the Flyers, as the Chicago Blackhawks had good luck on their side, and won the lottery to get the No. 1 overall selection, despite finishing the season in 26th place.

The Blackhawks gathered 71 points during the 2006-07 campaign, more points than the second-worst Phoenix Coyotes (67), the 28th-ranked Los Angeles Kings (68), and the 27th-ranked Washington Capitals (70).

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According to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's final rankings, the best three players in the draft (in order of rank) were: Kyle Turris, Patrick Kane, and van Riemsdyk.

Then Chicago general manager, Dale Tallon, had the difficult decision of who was the best player available after listening to scouts for weeks, and getting to know what each playerwould bring to the team.

Tallon, who selected center Jonathan Toews with the third overall pick in the previous draft, chose right winger Patrick Kane with the top pick.

Kane's scouting report described the Buffalo, N.Y. native as "a skilled playmaking forward with great hockey sense, high-end passing skill, not afraid to take the puck into traffic can be very elusive, very good at anticipating the play and has a good wrist shot."

With the Blackhawks taking Kane with the first pick, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren had the pressure to choose between a playmaking center who was compared to Steve Yzerman in Kyle Turris; or a young, up-and-coming power forward in James van Riemsdyk.

Holmgren selected the 6'3", 200-pound left winger, van Riemsdyk, who many believed that the Flyers would have chosen even if they had the top pick. It didn't take long for Turris to come off the board, as Phoenix took him with the third pick.

After being drafted, van Riemsdyk took his game to the University of New Hampshire for two seasons rather than playing for a Major Junior team or in the American Hockey League. JVR played a total of 67 games while registering 28 goals.

Kane jumped immediately to the NHL with the Blackhawks in his rookie season after totaling 145 points in 58 games while playing for the London Knights. In comparison, JVR never played Juniors, instead he was played for the USA Hockey National Team Development Team Program (USNTDP), which Kane played for in 2005-06.

Van Riemsdyk played 113 games in the various levels of the USNTDP, recording 64 goals and 59 assists. In comparison, Kane scored 102 points in 58 games in his last season with the program.

Three years later, Kane has played in 244 games at the NHL level compared to van Riemsdyk's 78 career games.

Because Reemer needed two years at college, it's unfair to cast any kind of judgment on how the Flyers did or how big they missed out on Kane. Not yet, at least.

Nonetheless, it's time for van Riemsdyk to take a big step forward in terms of progress, now that he has one full season playing at the professional level—he only played seven games in the AHL.

Coming into last year's training camp, JVR was not a shoo-in to make the squad.

The Flyers were fully prepared to have him at least start the season playing for the Adirondack Phantoms, their AHL affiliate, but he beat out the likes of Andreas Nodl, Jon Kalinski, Jared Ross, Pat Maroon, and Jason Ward.

It has been three years since van Riemsdyk has been drafted, and the Flyers have gotten back to where they want to be: a Stanley Cup contender, but they still need Reemer to pan out as they hoped, and it has to be this coming year.

The 21-year-old van Riemsdyk gained a lot of experience in his first year, as the Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, giving Reemer 99 career games in the NHL.

An interesting sidenote is that van Riemsdyk had only 47 games—including NCAA and NHL—before jumping to the best hockey league on the planet.

In 78 regular season games, van Riemsdyk scored 15 goals and 20 assists. During the playoffs, JVR scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 21 games.

The experience was crucial for a power forward drafted in the top-10 that had only played in the Developmental League before getting drafted, but it also puts him in a situation where he has to take a major step forward in his development this year.

I don't think anyone would question that Holmgren is expecting big things out of van Riemsdyk, and he wants him to show consistency in his second year.

By trading away Simon Gagne and significantly upgrading the defense, it's clear that the Flyers want JVR to be a contributor on the score sheet in 2010-11.

With Nikolai Zherdev likely replacing Gagne on the top line and the Flyers finding their second line in the playoffs, van Riemsdyk will be skating with Claude Giroux on the third line with a combination of Dan Carcillo, Darroll Powe, and Jody Shelly.

The time is now for van Riemsdyk to either break out or bust. Three years ago, the Flyers were the worst team in the league. The Flyers achieved as close as you can to a quick fix.

Holmgren turned the team around right away, getting the Orange 'n' Black to the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing dead last the season before.

What did he do? Homer signed Danny Briere to a long-term deal, acquired Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Jason Smith, and Kimmo Timonen.

And three years later, the Flyers are a of couple bounces and a good goalie away from winning the Stanley Cup against you know who, Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Anyhow, Philadelphia cannot afford to strike out on van Riemsdyk despite how young the Flyers core is.

The Flyers have an average age of 27 among forwards, with a core of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Giroux, all of whom are 25 or younger.

Then you have 26-year-old Ville Leino and the 25-year-old Zherdev. The Flyers have a good group of young players.

However, the Flyers will run into a problem next year with the cap. In 2011-12, Holmgren has $46,813,096 committed to 15 players, leaving Philly with a projected $13,436,904 in cap space.

Carter and Giroux will become restricted free agents after the season, and both will receive raises.

Carter will make $5 million in his final year while Giroux will make $821,667 at the end of his rookie contract.

I'm expecting Carter to ask for at least $6 million per year while Giroux could command at least $3 million.

The Flyers have limited resources in the farm system in regards to quality forward prospects, and that puts even more pressure on van Riemsdyk to succeed.

The ball is now in his court, and there's one question he'll answer this season:

Is James van Riemsdyk a hit or a miss?

Visit the Broad Street Scoop for more Philadelphia Flyers coverage. Follow Tom on Twitter: Tom_Dougherty.