Van Riemsdyk excited to play centre
New Leafs forward up for the challenge
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
James van Riemsdyk excited to play centre for Leafs
TORONTO - James van Riemsdyk is ready to become the centre of attention.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward spoke to reporters in Toronto on Wednesday for the first time since Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle told the Toronto Sun last week that he will start van Riemsdyk at centre in training camp, and it’s a change the former Philadelphia Flyer embraces.
“It is something that will be a good opportunity for me,” said van Riemsdyk, who was at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke instructing at the Leafs’ hockey school.
“I have played it a little bit in the past, and any time you can be a little more versatile as a player, it is definitely a good thing. I’m excited about that.”
Acquired from the Flyers for defenceman Luke Schenn in June, van Riemsdyk, usually a left winger, took just 10 faceoffs in three seasons in Philly. But the 23-year-old played centre for two years at the University of New Hampshire, so it is not as though he will be learning the position from scratch.
What would he anticipate as being the most difficult aspect of the transition?
“Getting that comfort (level) back with the position,” van Riemsdyk said. “When you are used to something it is second-nature, so when you are out there not thinking and just playing, that is when you are at your best. Just be a matter of getting some reps in there and sure I will be fine.”
If van Riemsdyk demonstrates he can be a solid centre, the natural expectation is he would play between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel on the Leafs’ top line. Of course, that’s if general manager Brian Burke does not acquire a No. 1 centre between now and the opening game of the Leafs’ regular season on Oct. 13.
Whether the Leafs are putting too much on van Riemsdyk’s shoulders or he indeed is going to handle the new responsibilities with maturity remains to be seen. His highest ice-time average a game with Philly was 15 minutes 10 seconds, a career-best that was accomplished last season. As a top-line centre, he would be looking at adding at least three minutes to that, all the while learning the nuances of a new position.
And, of course, all the while trying to help the Leafs get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
But it should be noted that some of van Riemsdyk’s best hockey in the Flyers’ black and orange has come in the playoffs, both during the 2010 Stanley Cup run and in 2011, when he scored seven goals in 11 post-season games. So performing when there is pressure is not something that puts a scare into the New Jersey native.
“You want to be in those situations, in those key moments on the ice, when the game in on the line and the game is on your stick, those are the kinds of moments I love being a part of and love being out there for,” van Riemsdyk said, adding he was excited at the prospect of playing with Kessel and Lupul.
“If I can be in that kind of opportunity, it would be great. You want to be in those big-time positions like that, and it brings a new element of excitement to the table.”
Van Riemsdyk soon will return to off-season home in Connecticut and will back in Toronto in August to settle in his new place – he is still looking – and train with his new teammates. Before then, he will continue to study video and take in all he can about the position he has not had to worry about for three years.
“It’s just getting the system down that coach Carlyle likes to employ here,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s going to be different than what I played the last couple of years – getting used to his terminology and some of the stuff he likes to see out of his centremen.
“You have to take care of your own end before you can start playing offence. If you are defensively responsible, I don’t think it matters what system you are playing.”
JVR SAYS HEALTH IS FINE
Injuries limited James van Riemsdyk to just 43 games in 2011-12, but the Maple Leafs forward told a large group of reporters on Wednesday that all is well.
A hip injury, concussion, a rib issue and a broken foot sent van Riemsdyk to the infirmary at various times last season.
“It’s all good,” van Riemsdyk said. “That is what the summer time is for, to get all of these things straightened out. A few weeks after the end of the year were good to help me feel better and stuff, and I am feeling good right now.
“There were a lot of things, certain things out of your control … you go out there and play the game hard and sometimes things happen.”
As returns to full health, van Riemsdyk is keeping an eye on collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association and said he plans to attend future meetings.
“I’ve talked to some guys (who went through the lockout in 2004-05) and they said to just be prepared for anything,” van Riemsdyk said. “You never know what can happen. You pay attention to what has been going on, and hopefully they can figure it out and get something done. It should be an interesting next couple of months.”