The New York Yankees, Jerry.
That’s the analogy James van Riemsdyk, the newest Maple Leaf, made while discussing his new hockey address, Saturday.
The Leafs acquired the 23-year-old leftwinger in a one-for-one exchange for 22-year-old defenceman Luke Schenn.
“To go to a place like Toronto is unbelievable,” van Riemsdyk said via cell. “The tradition they have. I grew up a big New York Yankees fan. It’s like playing for the New York Yankees of the NHL.”
“Toronto has always been one of my favorite cities to come to. There’s a great following and a great buzz when you play there. The excitement is in the air.”
The 23-year-old van Riemsdyk, the second choice in the 2007 draft, has been beset by injuries. This year he played just 43 games because of an injured hip, a broken bone in his foot, a concussion and a strained oblique muscle.
“I learned a lot from the injury issues,” van Riemsdyk said. “I learned to deal with some adversity and I think it can only help me in the long run.”
Leafs GM Brian Burke said the hip injury, often termed hockey hip, is regularly borne by players. Many players regularly play through it with steady treatment. The foot injury came through a blocked shot. It is probably a point of irritation for Burke and coach Randy Carlyle that so few Leaf forwards are bruised from blocking shots.
The injuries, Burke said, “are not something we are worried about.”
In 196 regular season games with the Flyers, van Riemsdyk scored 47 goals and assisted on 52 more. The New Jersey native flashed his immense promise in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs when he scored seven goals in 11 games.
“He isn’t a big banger,” Burke said. “He uses his size on both ends of the ice. This isn’t a ploughorse. This is a thoroughbred.”
The Leafs, of course, have a big hole in the middle of the number one line. While he usually plays wing, van Riemsdyk has played the point on the power play for the Flyers. He is a good passer and has played centre but Burke stressed he was acquiring a winger, not a centreman.
The Leafs drafted Schenn fifth overall in 2008. He showed flashes of excellence but never really found his stride as the Leafs were constantly undone by spotty goaltending and poor penalty killing.
Schenn was a career minus 23 with the Maple Leafs and was scratched three times this season including once by current coach Randy Carlyle. Schenn led the NHL in hits with 270.
While he has never accrued more than 35 penalty minutes in a season, van Riemsdyk is the kind of big-bodied forward the Maple Leafs have long coveted. He would likely slot into the second line beside centre Mikhail Grabovski but figures to see extensive time on the power play.
On his way out the door, van Riemsdyk was gracious toward the Flyers. He praised GM Paul Holmgren and owner Ed Snyder but added “I’m very excited to get there and start this new chapter of my career.”