Toronto’s Tyler Bozak enjoys centering ex-Flyer James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel. He says that playing with JVR has been a lot of fun for the surprising Maple Leafs this season.
Heading into the weekend, van Riemsdyk was sixth in the NHL with eight goals, which was also a team-high for Toronto.
“I've been playing with him for the last little while and it's awesome,” Bozak said this past week when the Flyers visited.
“Especially with him and Phil on both sides. Both have great shots. They're great guys to play with. He's scoring goals. He gets to the dirty areas.”
Van Riemsdyk has finally found the courage to go inside those “dirty” areas as Ken Hitchcock used to call them, to score goals, ala Scott Hartnell and Mike Knuble.
That’s what the Flyers always envisioned him becoming – a power forward. Now the Leafs think he’s more of a stallion on the wing who’s going to score off the rush. No question, JVR is far faster than a Hartnell or even Knuble in his prime.
Part of new success, JVR says, is that he’s gotten more ice time as a Leaf – 18 minutes a game which is three minutes more than even his best year as a Flyer.
“You see the time on the ice, and it's been a little more here than it was in Philly,” van Riemsdyk said. “That's something I knew, if I was able to get that opportunity, I knew I could have success. I'm excited to get that opportunity and make the most of it.
“I think I showed [in Philly] when I had that opportunity the kind of player that I could be and I was a productive player. I think last year, with injuries and other stuff, I wasn't really able to get on that groove and kind of get that opportunity.
“But it is what it is and I'm happy to be here [in Toronto]. I'm excited that the team is off to a good start and hopefully we can keep going.”
Bozak said the lockout made it a tougher transition for JVR because there was no formal structure to meet teammates and immerse himself into the whole Leafs culture.
Then there’s the fact you haven’t played games, anywhere.
“We were in a lockout there, then you come in and you haven't played while some guys have,” Bozak said.
“It's obviously going to take a little bit of time. Everybody in here, I think it took a little bit of time to get in the swing of things, but it's all working and he's playing great. He's a huge part of our team.”
A longtime member of the Leafs front office remarked this week how utterly “unflappable” van Riemsdyk was.
“Nothing seems to bother him,” the person said. “For a young player, it washes right off him. We’re not used to seeing that from guys that come here off a trade.”
Bozak thought about that for a minute – unflappable JVR.
“That's what we all try to do,” he said. “You try to keep the negative out. That's what we work on here. We want to just think about the positives and I think he's a good leader in that area.
“JVR really doesn't dwell on the negative things. He just tries to stay confident. You always play better when you're confident. It's rubbing off on a lot of other guys, too. He's huge in the room and on the ice.”
The season still has a ways to go, JVR said, to see how it all turns out.
“It's still a process every day,” he said. “You get more comfortable with the team and the system and the city, and I think the more comfortable you are with your surroundings, the better it leads to you play on the ice.”
Associated Press, Columbus Dispatch, National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Sun and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributed to this story.