He isn’t quite the free agent many Philly sports fans hoped would be taking his talents to the Wells Fargo Center in recent weeks, but Ron Hextall’s signing of James van Riemsdyk to a 5-year, $35 million contract signals an enormous shift in the timeline for contention for the Flyers. Adding the prolific van Riemsdyk to an already strong top-six is a powerful statement that Hextall expects these Flyers to be competing for Stanley Cups sooner rather than later.
It’s a fairly steep price, but a necessary one considering where the Flyers are and where they hope to be. As impressive as the rejuvenated Claude Giroux looked last year, the fact remains that the erstwhile captain sits on the wrong side of 30. Realistically, we may only be looking at two or three more years of elite production out of Claude, which makes accelerating the timeline all the more important (as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the Flyers’ considerable stockpile of young talent).
Of course, if you’re going to pay a forward $7 million a year, you better be getting a guy who can score (or create goals) in bunches. Fortunately, that’s exactly what JVR is. He’s scored at least 25 goals and 50 points in every full season since Paul Holmgren shipped him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a Schenn family reunion.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how JVR racked up his scores last season, broken down by category.
The “Wayne’s World”
The label “high-volume shooter” is tossed around often when discussing JVR, and for good reason; he’s finished top-three on his team in shots in each of his five full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. But although JVR has more finesse to his game than his size indicates (as we’ll discuss later), the majority of his goals last year were more of the Wayne Simmonds variety: deflections, rebound stuff-ins, and other assorted yeoman’s plays around the net. One example will suffice.
Scoring these kinds of goals consistently takes more skill than they may seem. JVR is blessed with excellent hand-eye coordination and the size to carve out space in front of goaltenders. But what stands out most is his poise with the puck on his stick near the net. JVR’s more than happy to slam a puck home when the situation demands it, but he also knows when to stay patient and pick his spot, whether it’s through the five-hole or roofing it top shelf.
That’s what a goal-scorer looks like. It’s exciting to think about how many of these chances Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek (his projected second-line buds) will generate for him, compared to his solid-but-unspectacular linemates of Tyler Bozak and Connor Brown last season. Assuming he finds a role on the first power play unit, could we see JVR set a career high in goals in the first year of his return? Don’t count it out.
The “Snipers Gonna Snipe”
But as alluded to above, the 6’ 3’’ winger can do more than stand around the net and wait for scoring opportunities. Give him space in the slot to fire off a wrister, and you might very well end up with the puck in the back of the net. Exhibits A and B:
JVR’s shot accuracy is what separates him from a regular cherry-picking forward, and would allow him to fit seamlessly into the center of the Flyers’ 1-3-1 powerplay alignment on the first unit, if Dave Hakstol and Kris Knobauch feel so inclined. Otherwise, he’d likely add some scoring punch to the second powerplay unit in the Simmonds role. Wherever he ends up, the diversity of JVR’s scoring confirms that his consistently strong goal totals are no fluke. To make a basketball parallel, Kawhi Leonard is a more effective scorer than Robert Covington partially because of his ability to make shots from every part of the court Likewise, JVR is not limited to scoring within a 5-meter radius from the net.
The “2nd Overall Pick”
And finally, there are the plays that remind you why he was the second-best prospect in the 2007 Draft behind only Patrick Kane. Just enjoy.
[insert heart eyes emoji]
It’s worth pointing out that almost none of JVR’s goals came on rushes of any kind. Whether or not this is a reflection of his ability or the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system is a question better left for a different writer, but one thing’s for sure: JVR’s going to be lighting the lamp quite a bit in his first season back on Broad Street.