James van Riemsdyk is a good hockey player, a productive hockey player.
That has not changed since the Flyers signed him in the summer of 2018.
In fact, he possesses one of the sharpest hockey IQs among the Flyers, according to his head coach, while he's one of the most proficient goal scorers the club has on its roster.
The two-time 30-goal scorer is a big part of the Flyers taking the next step in 2020-21. Why wouldn't he be after the team fell a game shy of the Eastern Conference Final despite scoring only 2.08 goals per game in 13 contests over the first and second rounds of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
For those fixated on the Seattle Kraken and the NHL expansion draft ahead of the 2021-22 season when it comes to van Riemsdyk, it's a rather pointless thought considering the Flyers have an important 2020-21 season ahead, one with expectations and a core group in place following a back-in-the-picture 2019-20 season.
In the second year of his five-year, $35 million deal, van Riemsdyk had 19 goals, 21 assists and a plus-5 rating over 66 games this regular season. In the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament, van Riemsdyk played in 12 of the Flyers' 16 games and scored two goals in 14:20 minutes per game. He did not suit up for four games and saw bottom-six type of minutes when he did. He then scored two goals over the club's final three games in its seven-game second-round series loss to the Islanders.
"Everything is performance-based; it’s the player’s performance but it’s also the other players’ performance, who’s playing well and what you feel gives your lineup the best chance to win," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Monday. "I think JVR, for him to be effective in the game, he’s got to play in that top-nine category. One spot in those top-nine forwards. A lot of times your fourth line can be an energy line, a momentum line, you've got a couple penalty-killers on that.
"I see him, he’s got potential, he’s a smart hockey player. Out of all our players on our team, he’s probably the one that understands the game at the highest level. He sees it. I hear him speaking on the bench and he knows exactly what’s exactly going on, the type of play that should be made.
"But like some other players in our group, consistency this year was an issue for him. That’s an area I’m very confident that he can improve on for next year."
Some things to consider with van Riemsdyk:
• Over the last two seasons, van Riemsdyk is second on the Flyers in goals per game played with 0.35, behind only Sean Couturier, who has 0.37. In 2018-19, the first season of his reunion with the Flyers, van Riemsdyk missed 16 games because of a lower-body injury but still scored 27 goals in 66 games.
• In his last full season, which came during 2017-18 with the Maple Leafs, van Riemsdyk scored a career-high 36 goals.
• In 2010-11, his second NHL season as a role player on the Flyers, van Riemsdyk played 14:32 minutes per game. This season, he played only 14:54 minutes per game. In both seasons, van Riemsdyk scored 40 points.
This season, van Riemsdyk was in Year 1 with Vigneault. Last season, he played for two head coaches after returning to the Flyers following six seasons with the Maple Leafs. He just turned 31 years old in May and is regarded for his professionalism in approach and nutrition, which not only helps his own longevity but also has an impact on the club's younger players (ask Carter Hart).
Give his deal some time. It's not like van Riemsdyk hasn't been productive. It's not like he can no longer help.
The 2020-21 season is a big one. Vigneault can do more to help van Riemsdyk and van Riemsdyk can do more to help his head coach. If both get the best out of one another, the next step will be there to take for the Flyers.