He is not there yet. He also is not 22 yet. But the growth is obvious. The good games come now with regularity. When you notice him skating - he has a nice combination of speed and power when he gets moving - you see flashes of why the Flyers drafted him with the second overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft.
Last night, van Riemsdyk took another step. He was the best Flyers player in a 1-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series. It was not by default, either - the Flyers had plenty of players play well; they just didn't finish against Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.
Another step, then. It is one of the things they will talk about once the sting of the defeat ebbs. Coach Peter Laviolette put van Riemsdyk on a line with Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter and they combined for 12 of the Flyers' 35 shots on goal. Van Riemsdyk had six of them and also hit a post in the first period - all in a game that should have ended the notion that the Flyers' late-season funk would continue into the playoffs.
It didn't. They just didn't finish. Now, not finishing is just as fatal as playing lousy, but it is a lot more palatable - especially when a team is going about the business of regrouping for Game 2.
"I think you could feel it at the morning skate, that guys were that much more focused and that much more ready to go," van Riemsdyk said. "We'll have to get ready to go off the hop again on Saturday.
"Being in the playoffs [revved up the team], and also the crowd was great and got us fired up a little bit. Hopefully we can get one behind him next time. We just have to keep battling."
If you are old enough, and you have watched the Flyers for long enough, you have seen this movie before; somewhere, Dominik Hasek is smiling. The Flyers had the advantage in shots (35-25) and scoring chances, but it is fair to say that they never made Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller be Superman. They just made him be very good, and Miller can be very good in his sleep.
Add in the fact that the Sabres blocked 16 shots and pretty effectively cleared almost every rebound, and the Flyers can see the task ahead. But as they wake up today and begin the analysis, they will see that they threw 74 shots in the direction of the net compared to 36 for the Sabres.
In other words, they have some things to build upon. And if van Riemsdyk has indeed begun to take another step in his still-young career, that is one of them.
"When you don't win, there's not much really you can take out of it," he said. "There are some things we can use to build but, at the same time, when you don't get the win, it's tough . . .
"[Miller] did a good job. I don't think we had too many of those Grade A chances off of second opportunities. That's something we're going to have to continue to try to keep on doing . . . just having that guy in front of the net, digging for pucks. I think we were hungry for it. It was just one of those things where we didn't get the bounces, too."
Van Riemsdyk talked about having a short memory, and about the need to "get some of those greasy-type goals," and about how the Flyers are "going to have to kick it to a whole 'nother level." He has the hockey-speak down, in other words.
The rest is coming for James van Riemsdyk. You can see it on nights such as this, even amid the Flyers' frustrations.
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