James van Riemsdyk at centre is going to happen, isn't it?

Cam Charron
July 12 2012 09:09AM

Bit of a media blitz in the last 12 hours relating to the possibility of James van Riemsdyk playing at centre between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul:

The major takeaway from van Riemsdyk's initial meeting with Maple Leafs beat writers was, indeed, that JvR is "definitely excited" about the possibility and "it's a great opportunity for him".

The National Post, and both the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun made that the major focus on their reports. Naturally, it's the big story, but does JvR really fit into the centreman position on this team?

Again, I'm squarely in the "Mikhail Grabovski is the best centreman on this team" camp. Grabovski is the two-way centreman the Leafs need on that first line. Kessel and Lupul are suspect defensively and Grabovski's game off the rush fits right into their style of play.

If you look at most of JvR's goals, you don't see that play-controlling ability. Rather, much of his goals are a big guy using his size and strength in front of the net. It's certainly a good talent to have, but is this the player that Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle are really banking on making that first line defensively responsible to guarantee the unit a surplus in goals?

Sure, in both of these goals, there's a good burst of speed generated, but he's not the last man back in either of his goals off the rush last season:

And the second...

Compared to Kessel, Lupul and Grabovski who score between 50%-65% of their goals off the rush, just 2 of JvR's 7 even strength goals last year did. I think it's a good thing to have on that first line wing to balance up the attack a little, but is he the guy to lead a rush or to be the first forward back into the zone?

The amount of attention being given to the possibility of van Riemsdyk starting the year at centre makes me think the Leafs may go through with this crazy idea if no other options become available. If New Jersey's financial trouble doesn't free up Travis Zajac, or if the classic options like Colin Wilson or Paul Stastny can't be obtained by Toronto, then the Leafs may feel they're up the creek at forward.

Grabovski is still the best option up front. It would give that line a 60% possession rate and push at least one plus-possession winger, whether it's Nikolai Kulemin or van Riemsdyk, onto a third line. I just see so many more possibilities when you keep van Riemsdyk at wing. At centre, you're homogenizing the lineup. The Leafs were a 48% possession team without Kessel on the ice last season, and putting your only acquired forward asset with your top scorer isn't changing anything below.

Hopefully there's a solution in the works.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Hurricane
July 12 2012, 09:26AM
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I don't see what is wrong with a tryout. The downside is very limited, but the upside is that you have a big, skilled top line Centre - the type of player that is simply impossible to acquire outside of the draft. Why wouldn't you want to give it a shot?

It seems to me that the smaple size you're looking at in terms of 2011-12 goals is pretty small, but even so he clearly demonstrates the required speed to keep up with Kessel. He isn't the last man into the zone because he is playing as a winger.

Is there something in his advanced stats to suggest he won't be strong defensively?

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#2 SkinnyFish
July 12 2012, 09:53AM
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I'm with you on putting JVR on the wing. The Leafs need more balanced scoring. Lupul and Kessel were ppg with Bozak in between them last season. How much better could they possibly be with JVR there?

Whereas on the second line, JVR is a big upgrade over Kulemin who would then be freed up for a more defensive role on the third.

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#3 leafer4life
July 12 2012, 10:09AM
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I like the idea of putting JVR at centre. This will force Kessel and Lupul to be more defensively aware as they won't have bozak to bail them out.

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#4 Danny Gray
July 12 2012, 10:41AM
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@leafer4life

Bozak did little bailing last year. He's not very solid defensively. If he was he'd be a better #1C candidate.

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#5 Chemmy
July 12 2012, 04:29PM
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Grabovski is still the best option up front. ... At centre, you're homogenizing the lineup.

I keep reading this and feeling like I missed something.

Grabovski's line with Clarke MacArthur puts up points against tough comp.

Homogenizing the lineup would be putting Grabovski and Kessel together and having three lines of guys who can't score or drive possession.

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#6 Chemmy
July 12 2012, 04:32PM
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Or are you saying "homogenizing" like making every line mediocre?

I still don't get it because Grabovski's line is so good that breaking them up feels like making everything mediocre.

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#8 RexLibris
July 12 2012, 05:57PM
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Granted, I haven't seen a whole lot of JVR, and I believe he was drafted as a center, however, given that he hasn't played more than a handful of games at that position in the NHL it seems a bit presumptuous to suddenly put the mantle of a 1st line center on him.

I'm with Cam on this one. Grabovski is the best bet, I'd argue. It may deplete some of the secondary scoring, but if it means bringing along JVR more slowly and letting him acclimatize to the center position playing softer minutes then it would be the more responsible move in the long term.

The Leafs desperately want that #1 center. They have traded for a player who could, potentially, occupy that position. The problem is that right now it would seem like need is outweighing player development and if things don't go well for the young man, in the crucible of Toronto sports media, the young man's confidence could be crushed and then the Leafs will just end up with a promising young player who needs to be traded away in order to rejuvenate his career.

I realize much of this hype is coming from the media, but has there been any official word, aside from Carlyle's comments, about where JVR might fit?

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#9 Kent Wilson
July 13 2012, 12:35AM
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Maybe they should try Dion Phanuef at center?

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#10 glgbill
July 13 2012, 06:50AM
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Just curious...when has Ryan Getzlaf EVER been the first man back?

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#11 gravyface
July 13 2012, 07:57AM
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What really makes this seem like a possibility is that Carlyle never said (as far I as can find/see) we're going to try JVR as center _on the first line_.

Burke's also said they may solve the center position from within the organization. Never of those statements imply anything other than they're going to try to solve the #1 center position from within.

I like Grabs on the top line and if you put Frattin and Kulemin on the 3rd, all of a sudden you have a 3rd line that can actually check with size and speed and scoring upside.

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#12 Rob
July 13 2012, 05:32PM
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How can anyone possibly be against trying JVR at center??? Bozak has NOT worked out there, so sticking with him instead of taking a chance is stupid and cowardly. JVR has a skilled left stick that has obvious benefits on a line with righty Kessel... Breakout give and go plays to gain the zone with speed... JVR will be strong on the boards behind the net and the left stick is optimal for dishing to Kessel for one-timers. Surely Kessel is optimistic at the idea. A big skilled lefty at centre is what Kessel has needed all along.

And if JVR can't pull it off, just move on with knowledge gained. It's not like Carlyle would keep JVR at centre permanently even though it wasn't working. There's no good reason not to try it unless you're from the future and know it already failed miserably.

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#13 Rob
July 13 2012, 05:42PM
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Further... Bozak was great on the 3rd line and shouldn't lose a job in Toronto. I see Steckel being the odd man out if JVR sticks at centre, not Bozak. Anyone using the argument to keep the player where they have previously fit should also be saying Bozak should be a 3rd or 4th line centre, not 1st.

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#14 RexLibris
July 13 2012, 10:49PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Maybe they should try Dion Phanuef at center?

Or Matt Staja- oh, wait...

;-)

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