In the NHL’s days of yore, when men were men and men who stood in front of the opposition’s net were very sore men, the standard power forward was a big, bulky type whose strength was strength. His rushes had the subtlety of a bowling ball and he was skilled at imitating an immovable block of concrete as he tried to create crease chaos.
But in the modern age, the power forward position has evolved. No longer are brawn and the ability to root oneself to the ice its primary characteristics, rather speed, good hands and agility are equally important when determining the success a player can have in the role.
Case in point: Flyers sophomore left winger James van Riemsdyk won’t be mistaken for human wrecking balls and former Flyers’ Eric Lindros or John LeClair, but at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, the 22-year-old New Jersey native epitomizes the new breed of power forward. Van Riemsdyk can keep up with the relentless pace of the game and also establish body position near the goal mouth.
After progressing during the 2010-11 regular season – especially once he put a slow start behind him – with a 21-goal, 40-point performance, van Riemsdyk ratcheted up his play in the post-season.
As a bit player during the Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2010, he had three goals and six points in 21 playoff games. But this year he scored seven goals in 13 playoff games and had a stretch of at least one marker in five straight outings. With the summer shakeup in Philly, he's now emerged as the team’s most dangerous offensive threat.
“You see why (Flyers GM) Paul Holmgren wouldn’t part with him under any circumstances,” an NHL player development executive said of van Riemsdyk, whose name was referenced in trade rumors several time last season. “I know the kid struggled to find his form and his place on that team for a little while, but to me it was always only a matter of confidence with him.”
Now that his mindset has caught up to the physical tools, van Riemsdyk is just scratching the surface of what will be a potent career – and arm the Flyers with yet another weapon up front.
Former NHL defenseman Chris Therrien, currently a radio analyst in Philadelphia, has watched van Riemsdyk blossom into a young star. He’s watched first-hand as the kid known as ‘JVR’ has used his new-found on-ice assertiveness to drive hard to the net and get to corners and dig out loose pucks in order to created offense.
“The power moves, the strides he takes to the outside, that shows me that his confidence has really taken off,” said Therrien, a onetime teammate of LeClair and Lindros. “He wants to grow his game beyond where his natural talents have already taken him. This guy to me is going to be a dominant player for the Flyers franchise for a long time to come.”
An edited version of this article orginally appeared in the May 30 edition of The Hockey News.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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