James van Riemsdyk can change everything for Flyers

James van Riemsdyk can change everything for Flyers

As the Flyers plodded through a 4-7-0 start, there were issues abound.

They even felt endless.

And while the problems piled and the panic spread rampant, nobody seemed to remember James van Riemsdyk.

You know, the guy that scored 36 goals last season and signed with the Flyers during the summer for five years, $35 million. The guy that the Flyers have been without since the first period of the season's second game, when he suffered a lower-body injury after taking a puck to the knee.

The van Riemsdyk reunion was the biggest reason the Flyers would be different this season, why they were expected to make their largest stride of the Ron Hextall era.

But there was an outside sense that van Riemsdyk wouldn't have made much of a difference during the Flyers' season-opening funk — almost as if his absence didn't factor into the struggles whatsoever or his presence couldn't alleviate the bleeding.

All of which is ridiculous.

JVR is not just a piece, he's a big-time player. The Flyers will start to feel that soon, possibly this week, and the production speaks for itself.

His 36 goals last season were tied for 13th in the NHL, ahead of names like David Pastrnak, Auston Matthews and Sidney Crosby. His 65 goals over the past two seasons were tied for 15th with John Tavares. And he has 136 goals in 365 games from 2013-14 to the start of this season, despite playing just 40 contests in 2015-16. During that span, the only players with more goals in 365 or fewer games are Evgeni Malkin (153 goals, 326 games), Nikita Kucherov (147 goals, 365 games) and Steven Stamkos (140 goals, 291 games).

When the Flyers went 2-5-0 from Oct. 13-27, they had trouble scoring with just 15 goals, tied for 25th in the league. They were a perimeter team and a player like van Riemsdyk would have changed those trends.

The Maple Leafs last season set franchise records with 49 wins and 105 points. In victories, van Riemsdyk had 42 points (25 goals, 17 assists). In losses, he had just 12 points (11 goals, one assist). Toronto was drastically better when van Riemsdyk was scoring at even strength and on the power play.

This season, from Oct. 13-Nov. 4, the Flyers' man advantage went 2 for 28, which was 30th in the league at 7.1 percent. Even with the team's 5-0-1 stretch, the power play is still 28th in the NHL at 13.8 percent.

Imagine what the Flyers can do when the man advantage is clicking? Van Riemsdyk possesses that game-changing ability as one of the more skilled and proficient net-front players in the league. 

When the Flyers were scrambling and trying everything to ignite their power play, van Riemsdyk would have been a simple solution. In fact, the Flyers' man advantage wouldn't be in this trouble had van Riemsdyk been healthy.

Of course, aside from offense, the Flyers have had other worries, too. However, van Riemsdyk's size alone at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds is impactful in multiple ways. He's not the defensive liability some deem him as, nor is he a one-dimensional player.

Recently, the tune has shifted a bit on the Flyers.

Don't be surprised if van Riemsdyk changes the whole narrative.

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Future Flyers Report: Could prospect Connor Bunnaman be headed back to NHL soon?

Future Flyers Report: Could prospect Connor Bunnaman be headed back to NHL soon?

It’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

• The Flyers' depth at forward is being seriously tested.

The team is without Travis Konecny (concussion, out indefinitely), Michael Raffl (broken right pinkie finger, out approximately four weeks) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder, out indefinitely).

Going into their three-game road trip, the Flyers have only 12 healthy forwards. In his fifth stint with the big club since the beginning of 2018-19, Mikhail Vorobyev is centering the Flyers' fourth line. The 22-year-old is in audition mode yet again with the Flyers and will have to be noticeable in limited minutes to stick.

How Vorobyev performs moving forward and the Flyers' depth concerns could open the door for Connor Bunnaman. The 21-year-old forward made the Flyers' season-opening roster. He's healthy again with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley after missing nearly a full month because of a lower-body injury.

Bunnaman brings size and positional versatility as the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder can player either center or winger. This past week, Bunnaman scored a goal and had eight shots in three games.

The Flyers may want to have him play more games with the Phantoms before calling him up. However, they may need him soon. Bunnaman has Raffl-like potential and ability.

On Sept. 26, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke highly of the 2016 fourth-round pick who scored 19 goals in 62 games with Lehigh Valley last season and two goals this preseason.

He’s been the best player in training camp. He was outstanding in the practices. ... By best player, I mean in terms of expectations. He’s come in and blown them away.

He honestly seems twice as fast this year to last year. I know we make a habit of saying players are quicker and faster but this guy is legitimately much faster than last year and he scored 19 goals last year, had a heck of a year in the American League.

There’s no reason to doubt that he can play some games for us this year.

The Phantoms play Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Flyers play Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Keep an eye on Bunnaman and the big club's bottom-six depth.

Quick hits

• Noah Cates is continuing to turn heads.

As a sophomore, the 2017 fifth-round pick leads defending national champion Minnesota Duluth with nine goals and is a point-per-game player (16 points in 16 contests).

The 20-year-old winger is coming off a four-point weekend (three goals, one assist) in the Bulldogs' two-game sweep of Omaha.

The Flyers couldn't stop bragging about Cates this summer and are probably bragging some more to each other this week.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development," Cates said in June. "They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

He's doing just that.

• Cam York, the Flyers' 2019 first-round pick, recorded a goal and an assist in Michigan's 4-1 win over Penn State last Friday.

The mobile and skilled puck-moving defenseman owns nine points (four goals, five assists) in 14 games as a freshman.

• Egor Zamula enjoyed a three-point weekend for the Calgary Hitmen.

The 19-year-old is third among WHL defensemen with 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 28 games and has a plus-19 rating.

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Flyers' Travis Konecny out indefinitely with concussion after hit from Mark Borowiecki

Flyers' Travis Konecny out indefinitely with concussion after hit from Mark Borowiecki

VOORHEES, N.J. — Monday started with bad news for the Flyers.

Travis Konecny, their 22-year-old leading scorer, is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Konecny was leveled in open ice by Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki during the first period of the Flyers' 4-3 win Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. He left the game and never returned.

The 2015 first-round pick is on pace to shatter his career highs. He's been arguably the Flyers’ most important piece to their turnaround through 30 games of 2019-20.

He has 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) after having 28 points through the team's first 50 games last season. The Flyers are 2-4-4 in games that he hasn't scored.

I didn’t know a ton about him. I knew he competed like hell, fiery player," Matt Niskanen, in his first year with the Flyers, said Monday. "Playing with him, that’s reinforced that thought — hungry on the puck, good quickness, really good at creating turnovers. He’s shown a pretty good scoring touch, too, so far this year. A lot of good tools and he’s been a really important player for us.

Philippe Myers left the Flyers' skill practice Monday with back spasms. With Konecny out and Myers potentially out for Wednesday's game in Colorado against the Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN), the Flyers will most likely have only 12 healthy forwards and six healthy defensemen to open a three-game road trip.

Niskanen, who has 125 career postseason games on his résumé and a Stanley Cup title, said this can be a good challenge for the Flyers. The team is 12-3-4 and tied with the Capitals for the most points in the NHL at 28 since Nov. 1 (see weekly observations).

"Both guys have played really well for us," he said. "Hopefully they come back, we've been on a pretty good run here. But it gives somebody an opportunity and it tests us a little bit — and that's OK, early in the year, you're going to have to learn to deal with things."

As of Monday morning, the Flyers did not have plans to make a call-up. Forward Chris Stewart will enter the lineup and defenseman Robert Hagg will, as well, if Myers is unable to go in Colorado.

Head coach Alain Vigneault said it's uncertain if Konecny will or can travel with the Flyers. The team flies to Denver Tuesday afternoon.

"At this time, I would say no," Vigneault said, "but you never know how things change."

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