James van Riemsdyk’s return to the Philadelphia Flyers boosts their playoff chances

The biggest NHL free agent signing this summer was centre John Tavares heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs for seven years at $77 million, but fans shouldn’t overlook James van Riemsdyk’s return to the Philadelphia Flyers. The 29-year-old winger began his career in the City of Brotherly Love after being drafted by the Flyers with the second overall pick in 2007. He played three seasons with the club before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s back where it all began now after inking a five year contract for $35 million.

The native of nearby Middletown, New Jersey, racked up 99 points in 196 games for the Flyers with 47 goals and 52 assists between 2009 and 2012 before heading to Toronto for defenceman Luke Schenn. It turned out to be one of the Leafs’ best ever trades as JVR contributed 154 goals and 140 assists for 294 points in 413 games in Toronto, including a team and career-high 36 goals and 18 assists in 81 outings last season. His career totals now read 393 points in 609 regular-season contests on 201 goals and 192 assists with 18 goals and 11 assists in 59 playoff games.

He will definitely boost Philadelphia’s chances at challenging for a Stanley Cup as he joins a lineup which contains fellow forwards Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny. And let’s not forget the team went 42-26-14 last year for 98 points and finished third in the Metropolitan Division. However, their lack of scoring depth hurt them in the playoffs as they were ousted in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins and were outscored 28-15.

JVR is one of the finest scorers in the league around the crease area as he has a knack for finding the roof of the net from close quarters. He ranked 23rd in the NHL in shots on net in 2017/18 with 248 and owned a shooting percentage of 14.5. He netted 25 even-strength goals last year and added 11 on the power play. The Flyers will definitely be a stronger team with Van Riemsdyk skating on the wing and he’s the third-highest player on the squad behind Giroux and Voracek.

Critics note Van Riemsdyk will be 34 years old by the time his new contract runs out, but he’s been improving each year. His goals-per-game ratio increased in each of the last four campaigns from 0.33 to 0.35 to 0.353 to 0.44. Van Riemsdyk played with Voracek, Giroux, Simmonds and Couturier during his first stint in Philadelphia so should be comfortable on his return. There’s a good chance he will skate on the left wing with centre Nolan Patrick though. Patrick was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft and notched 13 goals and 17 assists last year in 73 games as a rookie.

Voracek will likely play on the right wing with Patrick and Van Riemsdyk on the second line while Couturier, Giroux and Konecny will make up the first line. If there is a weak spot on the Flyers’ roster it will likely come in net where Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will share the goaltending duties. Elliot posted a goals-against average of 2.66 last year along with a 90.9 save percentage, but underwent abdominal surgery in February and a minor hip operation during the offseason. Neuvirth posted a 2.60 goals-against average and a 91.5 save percentage, but has so far been injury prone in his NHL career.

There will be high expectations on JVR’s shoulders this season considering how well he played in Toronto. He’ll be expected to score consistently in five-on-five and power play situations. At 6-foot-three and 217 Lbs, he’s a force to be dealt with in front of the net and it will be interesting to see if he can match last season’s scoring totals. Much has been made of Tavares joining Toronto, but Leafs’ fans need to realize they lost Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak in the offseason and those moves may balance each other out. They certainly would have loved to see JVR skating on Tavares’ wing, but in the salary-cap era it means Toronto lost last year’s top goalscorer for nothing.

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