Everyone envisioned this.
James van Riemsdyk putting on a skills clinic around the net, doing damage and being one of the biggest differences in a Flyers win.
Nobody thought it would take until Game 44 for it to really show.
But here the Flyers are, 16-22-6, 30th in the NHL with 38 points and trying to dig out of a hole that appears way too deep. From Oct. 9 to Nov. 13, they didn't have van Riemsdyk for 16 games because of a lower-body injury. His return started slowly and before you knew it, the Flyers were in a mess with a massive shake-up through the front office and coaching staff.
"JVR is a proud player and I think somewhere along the way he has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said Thursday night after a 2-1 win over the Stars. "Expectations for himself coming in here, free-agent signing and getting hurt the second game. That probably put him behind the eight ball, never really got on a roll."
On the day in which the Flyers briefly sat in last place of the 31-team NHL standings, van Riemsdyk brought his best stuff, accounting for both of the Flyers' goals. The first came off a nifty reverse pass from van Riemsdyk to Travis Konecny, while the second was JVR in front of the net, redirecting and getting a bounce.
So much of van Riemsdyk's game is about complementing others, almost as if his line is a puzzle and he knows exactly how to fit around his fellow pieces.
Gordon, who knows van Riemsdyk well, moved him back to the first line with Claude Giroux and Konecny. That move can pay off for the Flyers because of van Riemsdyk's smarts, a 6-foot-3, 217-pound winger who is more than just size.
He gave a glimpse into his thinking and how he styles his game, which produced a pair of 30-goal seasons before his return to the Flyers on a five-year, $35 million contract last summer.
(Alex) Ovechkin, guys like that, (Steven) Stamkos — it's not like they're necessarily blasting around, sprinting and stopping, doing all this stuff. They're kind of meandering and then they find that soft spot and everyone's like, 'How did he get there?' Well, he knows where to go and he knows how to get into the right spot when the guy who has the puck is ready to pass it, so that's what you try to learn over the course of your career. There are different things you try to watch and observe.
While uncertainty surrounds the Flyers, the 29-year-old van Riemsdyk is undoubtedly here and a large piece moving forward. Clicking with Giroux and Konecny could give this season a shot, but will be of even greater importance down the line.
"I think the biggest thing about chemistry is it's nothing more than predictability," van Riemsdyk said. "You know the guys' tendencies and you get that through repetition. I've played with G in the past, so I have some of that, I know what he's looking for and the different plays he's capable of making, which is a lot of them.
"The roles I've been in in the past, it's a lot of net-front stuff, stretch guy on set breakouts, different things like that. A lot of that is reading off of other players and their speed."
An art van Riemsdyk can put on display. If it feels too late, keep it in mind for the future.
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