Flyers sign James van Riemsdyk

Flyers sign James van Riemsdyk

James van Riemsdyk is coming back to Philadelphia.

The Flyers on Sunday signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year contract.

TSN's Frank Seravalli first reported that van Riemsdyk was returning to Philadelphia on Saturday night.

Per ESPN's John Buccigross, van Riemsdyk's contract will be a five-year, $35 million deal with a $7 million annual average value.

While most of Philadelphia awaits what the Sixers will do in free agency, the Flyers surprisingly stole the early spotlight Saturday night.

van Riemsdyk, 29, was originally drafted by the Flyers with the No. 2 overall pick in 2007 and spent his first three NHL seasons in Philly. The Middletown, New Jersey, native scored 47 goals and 99 points in 196 games with the orange and black from 2009-10 to 2011-12.

The Flyers traded JVR to the Toronto Maple Leafs on June 23, 2012, for defenseman Luke Schenn. In his six seasons with the Leafs, van Riemsdyk blossomed into a 30-goal scorer and 60-point man. Last season, he registered 36 goals and 54 points.

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound left winger averaged 25 goals and 49 points in his six seasons in Toronto. He twice hit the 30-goal mark — the 2013-14 season (30) and 2017-18.

JVR is a volume shooter too, which the Flyers desperately need. Last season, he finished the campaign with 248 shots, which ranked 23rd in the NHL.

Cap space isn't the issue with the Flyers, at least not in the short term. According to CapFriendly, the Flyers have $14.7 million in cap space.

Even with the $7 million AAV, they still have money to spend.

By bringing van Riemsdyk back to Philly, Ron Hextall pulled off his first major player transaction as Flyers general manager. Hextall's previous "big" free-agent splurge was Dale Weise for four years, $9.4 million. Most of his UFA signings have been two-year deals.

Before the NHL draft, he said the Flyers wouldn't "reach out on a seven-year deal on a good player." On Friday, Hextall cleared the air about his strategy this summer. 

"I misspoke that day or you guys misunderstood me," Hextall said with a smile. "I said we weren't going to go long term with a good player. Maybe a great player, we'd look at."

Now does van Riemsdyk qualify as a "great player?" That's up for debate.

But van Riemsdyk does significantly upgrade the Flyers' forward group. He's a power-power play threat — scored 11 PP goals last season — though he played a similar role in Toronto as Wayne Simmonds does with the Flyers. That's an interesting piece to watch unfold.

On paper, van Riemsdyk adds a proven scorer in the Flyers' top six and solidifies the forwards. With JVR in the mix, the Flyers finally have legitimate NHL forward depth.

van Riemsdyk joins a group of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek and Simmonds. The Flyers can now use Oskar Lindblom in a third-line role and the numbers game says the team's third line should feature two scoring wingers.

One of van Riemsdyk, Voracek, Simmonds or Konecny figure to be on the third line if all return to the club next season. If Hextall can upgrade their third-line center, it has all the makings of being a dangerous unit in 2018-19.

For now, though, Hextall silenced his critics by reeling in a relatively big fish.

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Emotional Hextall, Flyers blown away by Humboldt survivor Straschnitzki

Ron Hextall: Flyers wanted in on John Tavares

• How should the Flyers approach free agency?

• Flyers want to upgrade top 4 — de Haan the guy?

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

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

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