Thursday, October 25, 2012

Projecting Van Riemsdyk: On Injury, Opportunity, and Pedigree

As both a Leafs fan searching for hope and an involved fantasy hockey armchair GM, I read a lot of projections.  Projections about a player's point totals, a team's place in the standings,  guys who have a shot at the NHL's major awards -- I've read them all.

In pouring over this year's projections for the Leafs, I feel like James Van Riemsdyk has been consistently predicted to have lower point totals than what I would intuitively expect from him.  Now granted, it isn't as though I've followed Philadelphia with the fervor that I follow the Leafs, but I do see them a handful of times a year during the regular season, a fair bit in the playoffs, and my memory isn't so bad that I can't remember JVR being taken 2nd overall in 2007.

Now, I know that my intuition tends to have a pro-Leafs bias so I try to keep that in check by looking at statistics and overlaying these numbers with my expectations to see if things line up.  When I pull open JVR's player profile, I keep fixating on 2010-11 where he scored 28 goals in 86 regular season and playoff games as a 21-year old..  If you're a serious hockey fan, you probably remember how dominating he was in those playoffs, looking like he was sure to take the next step and become another (seemingly) untradable asset from the Flyers roster.  One summer later and he'll be plying his trade with the Leafs if this whole CBA mess ever gets sorted out.

At 23-years old, JVR should be about to enter his prime years of production.  Last year, we looked at when elite players reach a few key milestones.  In terms of his ascent to the NHL, Van Riemsdyk was right on schedule, becoming a full time NHLer by the age of 20, however, with regard to point production, JVR should have had his first season of 60 points or better last year.  At 21, it looked like he'd get to 60 with relative ease by 22 but even if we disregard his injuries, JVR managed only a 46 point pace last year.

Part of this can be explained away by opportunity.  The Flyers have a deep group of forwards and Van Riemsdyk wasn't able to crack the top unit either on the PP or at even strength.  His most common PP linemates at forward were Briere (who had a down year by his standards), Read, and Simmonds.  Part of me thinks that with Giroux he gets to the 60-point pace but the realist in me realizes that had he earned that opportunity, Laviolette would have had him on that line.

So what should we really expect from JVR this year?  Well, first of all it depends on his health.  His concussion issues last season were well-documented and many think that had he been healthy, he may have been a member of the Leafs as early as last year's trade deadline.

It will also likely depend on the opportunity he gets.  Toronto's forward group certainly isn't as strong as Philadelphia's and as such one would expect that he's more likely to spend time on the first or, at minimum, second line.  Joffrey Lupul can speak to the effect that skating with Phil Kessel can have on your assist totals.  Personally, I'd expect that he'll spend a decent amount of time with Kessel.  For all of Carlyle's sugar-coating the relationship he had with Lupul in Anaheim, I don't anticipate the leash will be terribly long -- not to mention, everyone loves a shiny new toy.

When looking at Van Riemsdyk from a projection standpoint, he has a lot going for him.  His draft pedigree and his goalscoring record as a 21-year old suggests to me that Van Riemsdyk has a pretty reasonable chance at having a few 60+ point seasons during the course of his contract.  The unanswerable question with Van Riemsdyk is whether he'll be able to fully recover from last year's concussion or whether he'll continue to be plagued by these issues moving forward.  If 2010-11 was the real JVR, then the Leafs may have acquired one of the top goalscoring big men in the league.  If last year was the real JVR, then we're probably looking at an adequate but unspectacular second line winger.

It may be my pro-Leaf bias talking again, but I would expect Van Riemsdyk to put up better than 50 points in a healthy season.  I think he has more to offer than what he's shown so far and this year should be the first of his prime seasons from a production standpoint and who knows, if health, opportunity, and potential can all come together this year, the Leafs may have landed an All-Star.

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