Flyers

Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The next-man-up mentality is a popular mantra across sports whenever a teammate goes down.

In the NHL, it's especially beloved. Hockey players are held up as the toughest of athletes renowned for playing through everything and anything. 

No excuses, whatever it takes.

So, naturally, when the Flyers left the practice ice and started to fill the locker room Monday, the feeling was like any other day, with regular energy and chatter.

But something was missing and there was no hiding it.

James van Riemsdyk's big 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame was not filling his locker stall. The left winger is out approximately five to six weeks with a lower-body injury (see story). As much as the Flyers try to unflappably and admirably push onward, losing their free-agent splash for possibly a month and a half just two games into his reunion is no joke.

This will test the Flyers' character, depth and health out of the chute for a season expected to serve as the biggest step in general manager Ron Hextall's process.

"It's obviously a big loss for us," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "But in the short term, it'll challenge us and challenge our depth and challenge somebody else to step in and do a good job."

There seems to be an outside perception of van Riemsdyk as a player that only scores goals and does very little else. He had just 18 assists last season and has been knocked for his defense in the past. Hockey, however, doesn't have to be so complicated. Ultimately, the teams that win are the teams that score and van Riemsdyk has a track record of consistently putting the puck in the net.

 

The 29-year-old did not score 36 goals by accident last season. He's poured in 30-plus twice. No Flyer can say that other than Wayne Simmonds.

Five to six weeks without such a skill can be damaging for a team not known to always start fast. In 2017-18, the Flyers were 8-8-2 with 18 points a month and a half into the season. Their 10-game skid was just beginning, which eventually dropped them to 8-11-7 by Dec. 2. The final result was the Flyers having to scrap and claw to clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season.

How the Flyers move forward and get by will be worth watching, game by game.

To start, Jordan Weal will fill van Riemsdyk's third-line slot alongside rookie center Mikhail Vorobyev and right winger Simmonds. For the sake of comparison, Weal is 26, a natural center and in his second full NHL season with 16 career goals. JVR had 16 goals in his first 34 regular-season games last season.

The net-front power-play prowess will be another missed aspect as the Flyers can roll out two versatile and experienced units when van Riemsdyk is at his best. The Flyers will insert 22-year-old Oskar Lindblom onto the second-unit man advantage. The 2014 fifth-round pick who turned himself into an anticipated prospect owns three goals in 25 career games.

Opportunity is prevalent and questions must be answered for the Flyers.

"Obviously it sucks," Simmonds said. "Riemer's a great player, but we've got to keep going."

Almost as if they never signed van Riemsdyk. That is life again, for now.

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