Every time something goes wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the same names are thrown under the bus by the media: Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Jonathan Bernier, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and whoever the head coach is at the time. Now sometimes those players deserve the criticism, but there are others playing for the Leafs that aren’t showing up every night outside of the usual suspects.
One of those players is first liner, James van Riemsdyk. While Bozak and Kessel take the most criticism for the play of the first line and lack of scoring production, van Riemsdyk is just as much a part of that unit and is more than capable of stepping up his own game.
Like the rest of the Maple Leafs, van Riemsdyk got off to a hot start in 2014-15. With 21 goals in his first 49 games, everyone was happy with his production. Alongside Riemsdyk, Bozak also had 30 points in his first 37 games while centring the top line.
Lately (much like the team) van Riemsdyk has picked up a quiet stick, netting just three goals in his last 25 games. On the year van Riemsdyk has 24 goals and 49 points, respectable numbers and good enough for second most on the Leafs. In fact, JVR will come fairly close to matching his career high 61 points from last season with the Leafs.
But when you consider some of the league’s best players already have over 70 points, you quickly realize how far off the pace the Leafs best players really are.
van Riemsdyk is a really special case when you consider where he was drafted. A former second-overall pick, he is the highest drafted player currently on the Leafs roster. The 25-year-old has yet to even scratch the surface of the type of player he could be. With his large 6’5″,200-pound frame, van Riemsdyk could easily be netting 40 goals a season. Yet he’s not.
Perhaps, he’s been a victim of bad luck. He’s shooting the puck more so now than at the beginning of the season when he was producing. However, his shooting percentage has dropped from 15.7 to under 4.3.
When ex-GM Brian Burke acquired him from the Flyers, he expected to get an elite level forward who will help the team win. So far in his tenure with the Leafs, he has not been that player. Philadelphia grew tired of his inconsistency and his inability to reach his full potential since it drafted him 2007. While JVR developed into a solid forward whom many teams would be interested in acquiring, he still has yet to become the player that people expected.
Perhaps his drop off in play can be linked to Kessel’s decline or even the coaching. For whatever reason, van Riemsdyk can not ditch his inconsistent play and continues to fall short of what many believe he is capable of.
So why is James van Riemsdyk allowed to play his game without all the media attention? He was acquired for the same reason Kessel was; to make the Leafs a better team. Maybe van Riemsdyk escapes criticism because of his fellow draft class.
In a top-10 draft class from 2007 which features the likes of Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner, Kyle Turris and Logan Couture, only one player has scored more than 30 goals in a single season. The only player is Logan Couture who has reached 31 and 32 goals in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. In fact if you look at the rest of that top 10 class from 2007, van Riemsdyk is performing at relatively the same level.
Given his age, van Riemsdyk still has lots of time to reach that next level if he so chooses. However, he has yet to reach that potential and deserves to shoulder some of the blame for the Leafs woes alongside the others. He may not be the sniper that Kessel is, but van Riemsdyk could easily be one of the Toronto Maple Leafs best players.