Leafs need to consider JVR in the middle.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. All opinions expressed by Mike Ulmer are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Maple Leafs or its Hockey Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Maple Leafs and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NHL accredited member of the media.
James van Riemsdyk is inexperienced in the face-off circle but his installation at centre between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul would have a healthy impact on the Leafs.

James van Riemsdyk is inexperienced in the face-off circle but his installation at centre between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul would help the Leafs.

Joffrey Lupul is midway through his projected six-week recovery from a broken arm. That means the question of who will man the Leafs top line will only grow in importance.

Those conversations need to centre on James van Riemsdyk, specifically moving him to the middle of the number-one unit upon Lupul’s return.

Aside from the excellent play of James Reimer the dominant conclusion of the early season is that when healthy James van Riemsdyk is a stud. He certainly looks healthy enough roaring around the opposition net. Van Riemsdyk’s eight goals lead the club.

That Phil Kessel has only scored twice says nothing about his ability to share the top line with van Riemsdyk and everything about how deeply he depends on Lupul as a set-up artist. Tyler Bozak, the incumbent centre on the first line is a good player but can’t bring the size and net presence van Riemsdyk commands. Watch for Kessel’s game to surge when Lupul returns.

Moving van Riemsdyk to centre carries some risk. He is inexperienced in the face-off circle. Van Riemsdyk’s passing is adequate but Lupul and Kessel possess far better puck distribution skills. If you are building an argument that van Riemsdyk is no set-up man look no further than his candidacy for the hockey version of the Cy Young Award. The New Jersey native has garnered only two assists to garnish those eight goals.

But van Riemsdyk would be the best defensive player on the reconstituted first line. He played centre in the U.S. development program and at the University of New Hampshire. Besides, the number one unit doesn’t need another passer; it needs an aircraft carrier.

The move needn’t involve a major reshuffle but would promote Nazem Kadri to the second unit between Leo Komarov and (when he is ready to return from minor knee surgery) Matt Frattin.

That would allow for the familiar third line of Kulemin-Grabovski –MacArthur.

Bozak can be moved around the lineup and spell van Riemsdyk on defensive zone face-offs.

Is it a surprise that van Riemsdyk should be installed in the middle of the team’s top line?

Not if you consider his pedigree.

Van Riemsdyk was the second overall choice in the 2007 entry draft. The Chicago Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane first overall.

Number two draft picks are routinely equivalent to players chosen first overall.

Take a look at the comparison between players chosen second and those picked number one over the last 20 years.

By my very unscientific measurement I found eight instances where number two picks outperformed the top pick.  The number one choice was validated nine times. I settled on three draws: Gabriel Landeskog against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kari Lehtonen vs. Rick Nash and Eric Staal against Marc-Andre Fleury. My pick for the better player is boldfaced.

 

Number 2                                                            Number 1

Year                       Player                                   Team                     Player                                   Team

2011                       Gabriel Landeskog           Col                          Ryan Nugent-Hopkins    Edm

2010                       Tyler Seguin                  Bos                        Taylor Hall                          Edm

2009                       Viktor Hedman                 TBL                         John Tavares                NYI

2008                       Drew Doughty                   LAK                        Steve Stamkos              TBL

2007                       James van Riemsdyk      Phi                          Patrick Kane                  Chi

2006                       Jordan Staal                    Pit                          Erik Johnson                      STL

2005                       Bobby Ryan                        Ana                        Sidney Crosby                Pit

2004                       Evgeni Malkin               Pit                         Alex Ovechkin                   Wash

2003                       Eric Staal                              Car                         Marc-Andre Fleury          Pit

2002                       Kari Lehtonen                    Atl                          Rick Nash                             CBJ

2001                       Jason Spezza                      Ott                           Ilya Kovalchuk             Atl

2000                       Dany Heatley               Atl                          Rick DiPietro                       NYI

1999                       Daniel Sedin                   Van                        Patrik Stefan                        Atl

1998                       David Legwand                 Nash                      Vincent Lecavalier      TB

1997                       Patrick Marleau                SJS                          Joe Thornton                  Bos

1996                       Andrei  Zyuzin                   SJS                          Chris Phillips                   Ott

1995                       Wade Redden                NYI                         Bryan Berard                        Ott

1994                       Oleg Tverdovsky             Ana                          Ed Jovanovski                 Fla

1993                       Chris Pronger               Hfd                        Alexandre Daigle                  Ott

1992                       Alexei Yashin               Ott                         Roman Hamrlik                     TBL

 

 

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About Mike Ulmer

Mike Ulmer has written 210 post in this blog.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. All opinions expressed by Mike Ulmer are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Maple Leafs or its Hockey Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Maple Leafs and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NHL accredited member of the media.



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