James van Riemsdyk at centre, suggests Carlyle

Cam Charron
July 06 2012 08:41AM

At this point, the best argument made for the Toronto Maple Leafs starting off James van Riemsdyk between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul is that it absolutely keeps the second line consisting of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin together. The second line has shown in the last two seasons the ability to tilt the ice the in the Leafs' favour.

But little else supports the argument. Van Riemsdyk was drafted as a winger, has spent his entire career as a winger, and, according to a statistic I saw on Twitter last night (and if it was your research, please mention in the comments so I can credit you), he's just 2-for-10 in his career on faceoffs.

Basically, JvR is not a centreman, but he is, according to Randy Carlyle, pencilled into that top-line centre position if nothing changes.

Randy Carlyle wants to see what James van Riemsdyk can do at centre.

The Maple Leafs coach said that, at this point, the plan is to give van Riemsdyk a long look at the position when training camp opens in September, provided there is no work stoppage.

“He’s a big man and we’re going to try him playing in the middle for us,” [Toronto Sun]

This is what happens when you have a team full of wingers and nothing else. Now, it probably helps Kessel and Lupul to have a player who can drive the play forward. JvR is a plus-Corsi player, but never as a centreman. The centreman has a different set of responsibilities, particularly with this group of wingers. Lupul and Kessel are either defensively inept or defensively blasé, as is expected of scoring wingers.

But the whole notion doesn't make a lot of sense. You could figure that, with five legitimate Top-Six wingers and only four spots, that the Leafs could create a pinch of depth. You have Grabovski, MacArthur and Kulemin taking on the tough competition in offensive situations, a checking line of Jay McClement and Dave Steckel (centres can more easily be shifted to wing than wingers to centres, or so I'm told) taking on the tough competition in defensive situations.

After that you're left with two generally more sheltered lines. Kessel and Lupul ought to be used by Carlyle to face average competition in favourable offensive situations and get the most starts in the offensive zone and that extra shot. As for the last situation, facing easy competition in a more defensive role, is the place you would ideally want van Riemsdyk to be. Heck, put him with Matt Frattin and either Tyler Bozak or Joe Colborne and call it the "American College Line" or the "Anger Don Cherry Line".

When you look a little more in depth at the roles of certain lines, "Top Six" and "Bottom Six" become less clear. Nursing a 3-1 lead with minutes to go, all of a sudden, Steckel is in your Top Six in place of Kessel. Ideally, you can have one clear scoring line and one clear checking line, with the other two a little more two-way capable. Getting the most good players, rather than players to pigeonhole to the "third line C" role, gives the team a little more flexibility.

The forward corps is coming along, but you'd rather not start the season with JvR forced to play with Kessel and Lupul. With his ability, he can create a good line on his own steam with a couple of decent-enough players. The Leafs can look at internal options with Nazem Kadri or Tim Connolly to centre that "sheltered scoring" line, but this is all theoretical.

The Leafs roster will look different by the time training camp arrives, and I'm sure a solution will be found in some degree. The likelihood that JvR actually starts the season in the middle is slim.

Quick Hit:

The other notable story yesterday was that Jim Hughes, Leafs director of player development, suggested that Morgan Rielly may be "ahead of the curve." This led to some fears about the Leafs wanting to start the season with Rielly on the roster. Hearing what I've heard Brian Burke suggest over the last two weeks, he doesn't want to put a junior kid in the pros without some development. My own conversation with Dave Morrison led me to believe that Rielly isn't in the Leafs' plans for the upcoming season. Rielly will play in the WHL this season.

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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 albertabeef
July 06 2012, 10:05AM
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Well of course they will make a player who has never played center in his life their first line centre. After all, the Toronto brain trust is soooo much smarter everyone else in the hockey world.....or maybe the universe! Just ask them!

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#2 Anonymous
July 06 2012, 11:39AM
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Albertabeef,

1. JVR spent a significant amount of time as a centre before being drafted.

2. Burke has said that he expects JVR to be a winger.

3. Carlyle said he would give him a try as a centre during training camp, not the regular season.

Nothing indicates that they're trying to force a square peg into a round hole. They're giving it a try either to see what happens, or to see if they can bring the asking price for a true #1C down by looking less needy.

Please research before commenting.

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#3 SD
July 07 2012, 05:42AM
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Maybe someone can help me out, but wasn't Sundin drafted as a winger?

Actually, I just found a link that says he was drafted as a winger and played at least his rookie season as a winger in Quebec.

http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=500398

So it's not the most ridiculous suggestion ever.

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#4 Rob
July 07 2012, 07:20AM
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It's my understanding that JVR was a center all his life until he was drafted and Philly moved him to the wing.

Another thing that makes this a great idea for Carlyle to try is that JVR is a skilled left-handed shot and that is ideal for making give and go plays with Kessel and setting him up for one-timers.

Another is JVR has size to provide that line.

Another is JVR has a good shot himself so defenders can't assume he's going to dish to Kessel for the one-timer. Lupul also can one-time the puck so there will be three good options... either winger or JVR shoots the puck himself. Harder to defend that scenario.

There's many reasons to try it and none not to try. Sticking with Bozak year after year expecting a different result is crazy. If Burke can't fill the need thru trade, try to fill the need from within. It would only be bad if it didn't work but they still stuck with it all year.

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#5 Rocky
July 07 2012, 11:58AM
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Abertabeef,

Carlyle auditioning Van Riemsdyk at center is a direct challenge to Burke: " I want more size up front so get me a bigger first line centre or I 'll come up with my own solution." To this end, when Wilson was coach Burke did not interfere with Wilson's decisions on player personel. Ron made the lines, dished out the ice time and decided who sat in the press box. N.B. Orr, Komisarek and Fransson. Expect the same with Carlyle. Burke might like JVR on the wing but ultimately it is up to Carlyle unless Burke fires him in order to make himself coach. Don't bet your house on that happening.

Rob,

Let's just compare Bozak and JVR before you unceremoniously run him over with a bus and bury his Leaf career next to Matt Stajan.

Here are JVR's stats: 23 years old, 6'3, 200 lbs.

2009-2010 15 G 35 P 30 PIM 78 GP 2010-2011 21 G 40 P 35 PIM 75 GP 2011-2012 11 G 24 P 24 PIM 43 GP Totals 47 G 99 P 89 PIM 196 GP

And here are Bozak's stats: 26 years old, 6'1, 196 lbs.

2009-2010 8 G 27 P 6 PIM 37 GP 2010-2011 15 G 32 P 14 PIM 82 GP 2011-2012 18 G 47 P 22 PIM 73 GP Totals. 41 G 106 P 42 PIM 192 GP

JVR has the advantage in age - 3 years younger. In size very slight advantage to JVR. Points - Bozak has accumulated more in less games. Goals - JVR has the advance by 6. Both seem to be slowly getting better with each paying season.

Conclusion:

Don't expect JVR to be a big upgrade on Bozak. Don't forget that JVR certainly must have had more sheltered minutes on a perennial playoff team in Philiadelphia whereas Bozak often played against the top opponent's checking line.

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#6 Rob
July 07 2012, 01:28PM
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@Rocky I'm not throwing Bozak under the bus. He'd be a great 3rd line centre. I'm pointing out the fact that we've seen what Bozak brings to the 1st line and it isn't enough.

We haven't seen how JVR would fare and he may fall flat on his face and he may be great. Definitely a skilled left stick with Kessel has promise.

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