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.
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.