TORONTO - Randy Carlyle wants to see what James van Riemsdyk can do at centre.
The Maple Leafs coach said that, at this point, the plan is to give van Riemsdyk a long look at the position when training camp opens in September, provided there is no work stoppage.
“He’s a big man and we’re going to try him playing in the middle for us,” Carlyle said on Thursday as he returned to his Manitoulin Island cottage following the Leafs’ prospects camp at the MasterCard Centre.
“It’s always nice to have a 6-foot-plus centre in your top six. We feel there is an opportunity to explore him at centre.
“I have talked to him and he has asked for some video work.”
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound van Riemsdyk had experience playing centre before he got to the NHL, at the University of New Hampshire and with the U.S. under-18 program.
In three seasons with the Flyers, van Riemsdyk primarily patrolled the left wing. There’s nothing that says van Riemsdyk will begin the 2012-13 regular season at centre, and general manager Brian Burke wants to upgrade at the position, reiterating this week that he is looking to make more changes via trade.
The Leafs roster includes centres Tim Connolly, Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, David Steckel and newcomer Jay McClement, as well as Matthew Lombardi. If van Riemsdyk turns out to be a valuable addition up the middle, something is going to have to give somewhere, whether it is through trade or by switching a couple of players to the wing. And not to be forgotten is prospect Joe Colborne. Nazem Kadri’s future with the Leafs, if he is not traded appears to be on the wing.
McClement was signed on Sunday, and Carlyle had some influential input into the acquisition. The 29-year-old McClement spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career in the Western Conference with the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, and Carlyle, as coach of the Anaheim Ducks, saw plenty of him.
To ensure no stones were unturned, Carlyle talked to former Leafs forward Alex Steen, a teammate of McClement with the Blues and a friend of Carlyle’s son, about McClement. Steen vouched enthusiastically for ex-teammate. McClement has been a stand-up player since his junior days with the Brampton Battalion, and Carlyle knows that bringing another dash of leadership into the room won’t hurt.
There were two integral reasons why Carlyle didn’t like coaching against McClement, who has established himself as one of the top penalty-killing forwards in the NHL.
“The first thing is his competitive level off the faceoff,” Carlyle said. “He’s so strong and has such a good stick. And secondly, he is a tireless worker. If you win the faceoff and get the puck down the ice, there’s 35 seconds gone (during a penalty kill).”
And, as Carlyle noted, when his Ducks teams would play against McClement, usually the Kingston native would be matched up against Ryan Getzlaf or Andy McDonald.
“That speaks volumes when people support him in those situations, to use him in a checking role against better players,” Carlyle said. “I really like the type of player he is.”