van Riemsdyk ready for duty when Blackhawks call on him

Trevor van Riemsdyk hasn’t played an NHL game since mid-November, but despite undergoing surgeries on his kneecap and wrist, could see action in the Stanley Cup final as a rookie. The reason? He has gained the trust of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

TAMPA – The posturing when it comes to NHL injuries during the playoffs is nothing short of astounding. Take Bryan Bickell of the Chicago Blackhawks for example.

Bickell missed Game 1 of the final with a suspected concussion. After the Blackhawks practiced Friday in preparation for Game 2, Bickell told reporters, “We did all the concussion tests and everything was clear.” When notified of what Bickell said, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville replied, “He passed the concussion test because he never had one.”

The trick there is in the wording. Never had a concussion, or never had a concussion test? Quenneville didn’t specify and was eager to move on.

On the Tampa side, meanwhile, Tyler Johnson hasn’t scored in five games and came out late for practice Friday. Vladislav Namestnikov took some shifts on the line with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov in practice. After practice, the Lightning informed reporters that Johnson was in treatment and would not be available for interviews. He is expected to speak after the morning skate on Saturday, however.

So it should be taken with a certain grain of salt when Quenneville said Friday that rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk would not be in the lineup for Game 2 of the final. Quenneville said the Blackhawks, “will probably keep the same group on the back end.” They may very well do that, but there’s a good chance an NHL rookie who hasn’t played a game in almost seven months will see the ice at some point in this series.

“They just told me to stay ready, stay mentally prepared for the game and that’s what I’ll do,” van Riemsdyk said. “I feel good. The last few days I’ve been getting better and better and getting more comfortable being back out there. I just have to be prepared and when my number is called, be ready.”

van Riemsdyk hasn’t played an NHL game since Nov. 16 when he fractured his kneecap against the Dallas Stars. After recovering from that, he played eight games for the Blackhawks farm team in Rockford before being shut down with surgery on his wrist. He has been doing full workouts with the Blackhawks and looks ready to step in. But with the Blackhawks having a lot of success using just four defensemen and sparingly using Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad in Game 1, there is not a real sense of urgency there.

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But one thing has become crystal clear when it comes to van Riemsdyk’s place on the blueline with this team. Since he showed up for training camp, Quenneville has absolutely fallen for this kid and the way he plays the game. You can tell the trust he has for van Riemsdyk over the likes of Cumiskey, Rundblad and Kimmo Timonen every time he talks about him. That’s why it would not be outlandish for Quenneville to put a 23-year-old undrafted free-agent rookie who hasn’t played since November into the heat of the battle in the Stanley Cup final. And van Riemsdyk might be able to play five-to-seven minutes as well as those guys, but it wouldn’t be a surprise, given the level of trust Quenneville has in him, to see him play more.

“At the beginning of the year, I tried to just play a pretty simple, pretty smart game,” van Riemsdyk said. “I just wanted to show (Quenneville) that he could rely on me to do the things they asked and if they asked you to do something once, just make sure you put that in your repertoire and do the things they ask each and every time out there. That’s how you build trust. It’s something that has got to be earned.”

van Riemsdyk doesn’t have any family in town, but is expecting to have them on hand when the series shifts back to Chicago. That includes his older brother, James, a winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who would be put in the rather awkward situation, if the Blackhawks managed to win the Cup, of celebrating a Stanley Cup with his younger brother after playing six years in the NHL and going to the Stanley Cup final with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 himself. You may recall that the Flyers lost that series to, you guessed it, the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I’m sure he’d consider (coming),” Trevor said. “You can’t touch (the Cup) as a player.”