Why James van Riemsdyk could be Flyers' most important player in 2019-20 (and not for his goal-scoring)


When James van Riemsdyk hit the free-agent market last summer, he had just scored a career-high 36 goals and was considered the second-biggest commodity to only John Tavares.

Signing with the Flyers presented a variety of selling points.

Five years, $35 million certainly whet the appetite.

Returning to the organization that drafted him second overall in 2007 was intriguing.

Being back near his hometown of Middletown, New Jersey, held special meaning.

But just as important as all those factors was this: He loved the Flyers' youth.

And still does, despite Year 1 of the reunion falling well short of expectations with a season marred by another slow start, inconsistency and dramatic change.

"That's the beauty of having young guys, we have guys that haven't hit their best hockey yet," van Riemsdyk said April 6 following the Flyers' season-finale loss. "We have a lot of high-end players, too. Everyone's got to be hungry going into the summer. It's not just a time to put your feet up, that's when you make your big strides as a player. You identify things you want to work on and you attack them."

There's excitement about what a healthy and comfortable van Riemsdyk can do for the Flyers throughout a full season in 2019-20 (see story).

However, he may be the Flyers' biggest difference-maker for a separate reason.

The very same youngsters that attracted van Riemsdyk to Philadelphia should attract to the 30-year-old. A proper word to describe van Riemsdyk is professional. He's enjoyed consistent success because of a complete and workmanlike approach that translates into results. 

In each of his last five full seasons, he's scored at least 27 goals. He's netted 30 or more twice. He scored 29 in 2016-17 and would have had over 30 this season if not for an injury that cost him 16 games. So he's awfully close to four 30-goal seasons by the age of 30 and he's played in 59 postseason games.

Sean Couturier is the only other Flyer with two 30-goal seasons and only Claude Giroux has appeared in more playoff games (69).

His young, impressionable teammates — Nolan Patrick (20 years old), Travis Konecny (22) and Oskar Lindblom (22), to name a few among the forwards — can learn from van Riemsdyk.

For the Flyers to have the bounce-back year they want next season, they'll need significant strides from their younger players — in other words, more consistency.

Carter Hart, who was lauded for his maturity entering the pros, took after van Riemsdyk to help with his NHL transition at 20 years old.

"JVR has been a real big help," Hart said in April. "He really pays attention to that side of the game and he's talked to me a little about his approach with the off-ice nutrition and sleep habits and all of his little things that he talks about. He's really helped me just open my eyes to his approach with the off-ice and nutrition and sleep habits, making sure that he's taking care of his body. He's always one of the first guys in the gym and he's always taking care of his body and doing the right thing. It's pretty cool for him to talk to me about that, and it has really opened my eyes."

Van Riemsdyk isn't the guy to get in your face and force-feed you tips on how to be better because he doesn't toot his own horn. But by watching him, by seeking him out, the Flyers can capitalize on more than just his goal production.

"It's something you can't fake, you can't just come in and be a guy who's rah-rah, do it my way, do it this way," van Riemsdyk said. "You've got to live it every day. I love what I do and I love trying to be the best I can be, try to be a good professional, just find an edge to keep improving and improving every single year that I can. You can't really come in Day 1 and beat your chest and say stuff. You remember being in some of the shoes of the young players not so long ago."

What did he do in those shoes?

"I remember just being a sponge in those situations where you're kind of watching and listening probably twice as much as you're saying anything," van Riemsdyk said. "Just kind of seeing the different things guys do to be successful and prepare to play at the best of their abilities every night.

"Just try to prepare the best I can. Be a good pro and set a good example in that respect. As you develop better relationships with guys — that just doesn't happen overnight — but as you develop those relationships with guys, you develop that trust where we can all learn different things from each other."

It could go a long way in the Flyers' 2019-20 aspirations. And it shouldn't require van Riemsdyk to beat his chest, either.

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