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When Push Comes to Shove: James van Riemsdyk

In 2006-2007, the Philadelphia Flyers celebrated their 40th season of operation by finishing dead last in the NHL. The team amassed a dismal 22-48-12 record and went through sweeping changes that left no man in the organization feeling safe. Eight games into the season, Bobby Clarke stepped down as general manager and head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired. Keith Primeau and Eric Desjardins had retired in the offseason and Peter Forsberg was about to go through a season of foot injuries that would eventually led to his being traded.

With everything going wrong, the fans at least found solace in the prospects of getting the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. Unfortunately, even that would prove to be a source of disappointment for the team.

In March of 2007, the NHL and its owners had voted on a new system that would implement a draft lottery for the 14 non-playoff teams. The lottery was a weighted system that would allow the teams to move up a maximum of four spots and move down no further than one. The last place team had a 25% chance (the highest of any team) to receive the first overall selection.

Even with the odds in their favor, the Flyers still found a way to lose. The fifth place Chicago Blackhawks won the inaugural draft lottery, as well as the rights to the first overall selection, which eventually turned out to be Patrick Kane. Philadelphia was left with the second overall pick and speculation as to what they would do with it. Many believed that trading the pick would be the best move so that the Flyers could focus on all the holes in their roster.

Philadelphia decided to stay put and pick Middletown, New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk instead.

van Riemsdyk, better known as JVR, was playing at the University of New Hampshire at the time of the draft. Rather than leave college and play in the minors, JVR decided to stay at UNH for the 2007-2008 season. Following the season, JVR would forgo his college eligibility by signing an entry-level contract with the Flyers.

JVR was expected to begin the 2009 season in the AHL, but following an impressive pre-season that saw him score four goals against the Washington Capitals in a rookie game and score two goals against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, van Riemsdyk received enough positive attention to earn a spot on the NHL roster.

JVR would finish the 2009-2010 season with 15 goals and 20 assists. van Riemsdyk had a few bright spots in the 2010 Cup run, most notably scoring the first goal in the famed Game 7 comeback against the Boston Bruins, but otherwise had a mediocre showing in the post-season.

The 2010-2011 season began at a similar pace. JVR only had four points in his first 13 games and was playing with a lack of confidence. Coach Laviolette benched him for four games in November and since then he transformed into a new man. JVR finished 2010-2011 with 21 goals, 19 assists, and a plus/minus rating of plus-15 -- an improvement in every statistical category from the previous year -- but the biggest change in van Riemsdyk was how he learned to use his size.

JVR is listed at 6’3, 211, and is considered to be a power forward, or in other words a big body that can drive to the net and act like a wrecking ball. Earlier in his career, JVR didn’t seem to realize the potential of his size. Since the beginning of 2011, he seems to have realized what he can do and that has been evident in the first two games of this year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

James van Riemsdyk could easily be considered the biggest impact on this series thus far. In two games, JVR has two points, 10 shots, and is averaging a little over 17 minutes of ice time a game. He also has 6 hits, a plus-2 rating, and has yet to be on the ice for a goal against.

The most important element of JVR’s game is his physicality. van Riemsdyk consistently crashes the net, pushes bodies, and takes up ice space. JVR is making the Sabres earn every piece of ice and is making it difficult for them to get into position.

Back in March, The Checking Line’s own Alicia Sprenkle questioned who would step up and develop a unique role for themselves in this year’s playoff run. If van Riemsdyk can continue to play at this level, not only will he develop a unique role, but he may buy the Flyers enough time to exorcise the demons that have been plaguing them the last two months and transform them into the team everybody expects them to be.

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