Is James van Riemsdyk A Good Fit At Centre?
With news hitting the airwaves today that James van Riemsdyk is willing to abandon the wing for a shot at centering Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul (two players JVR is familiar with from his time with Team USA and the Philadelphia Flyers) next season, the search for a number one centre might end sooner than the Toronto Maple Leafs expected.
Acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in return for defenseman Luke Schenn, JVR hasn’t played centre since he manned the middle with the University of New Hampshire, but with Toronto in desperate need for a centre and JVR seemingly willing to give it a shot, it appears as if Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle will give him a shot at training camp.
“It’s (playing centre) something that would be a good opportunity for me I think,” said JVR in a media scrum at Master Card Centre in Etobicoke. “I’ve played a little bit in the past and when you can be a little bit more versatile as a player I think it’s always a good thing.”
In preparation for the transformation from manning the wing to playing centre JVR has asked Carlyle to forward some video outlining the nuances of the centre position.
Defensive and offensive responsibilities and faceoff responsibilities would be of key interest to JVR, as well as the tendencies of his potential linemates, Kessel and Lupul.
Last season the Maple Leafs tried a plethora of players at centre before Tyler Bozak earned the position.
While nobody ever confused Bozak as a legitimate number one centre, he still managed to post 18 goals and 47 points through 73 games—most of which were played on the first line.
Bozak also managed to win 52.7 percent of the 1198 faceoffs he took, ranking him second on the team behind David Steckel’s 58.0 percent. JVR took just five faceoffs last season, winning two of them.
Clearly, JVR’s lack of experience and success in the faceoff circle might be cause for concern for the Maple Leafs, but with prospects Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri expected to struggle to make the lineup and Mikhail Grabovski seemingly penciled in on the second line and an improvement needed upon Bozak, JVR will be given every opportunity to win the first line centre’s job.
While the move from the wing to centre would appear to be an easy transition, it will be very challenging for JVR to be successful on the number one line. Like many young players, JVR is yet to fully develop the defensive side of his game, which will hinder him at centre.
Add that to the deep talent pool at centre ice within the Eastern Conference and you know JVR will have his work cut out for him.
Names like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Brad Richards, Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal, John Tavares and Jason Spezza are all expected to suit up as their teams first line centres in the Eastern Conference— a tough lineup for any player to face on a nightly basis, let alone a player that will likely be learning the position on the fly.
Clearly, JVR’s health will play a factor in his success at centre as well. JVR suffered a concussion last season, and while the symptoms are thought to be in the past, the centre ice position can be very physical, which may be cause for concern.
Of course, JVR may not make the transition at all, but the hope is he will be successful at training camp and for the foreseeable future.
It will be interesting to watch JVR’s progress, here’s hoping he comes through for Toronto and their fans.
Until next time,