The acquisition of James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers back in the summer of 2012 has paid off nicely for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s something of a question mark now.
He had a career-high of 40 points before his first season with the Maple Leafs, but has gone on to record 75 goals and 149 points in 210 contests with the Leafs. The thing is though, he did that while spending more than three-quarters of his even-strength playing time on a line with Phil Kessel. Even when van Riemsdyk was selected to represent Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics and averaged more than a point per game, it was with Kessel at his side.
Now that Kessel has been traded to Pittsburgh, the Leafs will be looking to van Riemsdyk to help keep their offense going, but he’s also one of the players that could be most effected by the move.
“That’s a good question,” van Riemsdyk said when asked what it will be like for him without Kessel, per TSN. “Now we’ll see it more so.”
While it’s a potential problem for van Riemsdyk, it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that he can still be a serious offensive threat without the likes of Kessel. van Riemsdyk is still just 26 years old, so he’s one of the players that could be in a leadership role once Toronto emerges from its current rebuilding process.
Phil Kessel will score at least 40 goals in 2015-16.
That’s the opinion of 13 NHL players among the 17 that participated in that survey question for USA Today.
While Kessel finished with 25 goals during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rough 2014-15 campaign, no player questioned felt he would finish with less than 30 goals now that he can count on getting regular minutes with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. With Crosby being the more likely of the two linemates for Kessel, more than half of those asked also named Crosby as the favorite to win the Art Ross Trophy. John Tavares was a distant second.
It’s not hard to see why fans and NHLers alike are optimistic about Kessel’s future with the Penguins. It’s not just the fact that he’ll be able to play alongside Crosby; it’s also that he managed to be one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers for much of his run with the Toronto Maple Leafs despite never having a top-tier center to work with. If he could score 37 goals in each of the 2011-12 and 2013-14 campaigns while playing primarily with Tyler Bozak, then what will Kessel be capable of after getting an upgrade as substantial as the one he just got?
USA Today also surveyed a total of 35 players on a variety of other questions with one of the highlights being the results for: “Name one sleeper team that is better than people realize.”
While Connor McDavid‘s Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel‘s Buffalo Sabres tied for second place with five points each, the Columbus Blue Jackets won with eight votes.
Related: Malkin: Kessel ‘can score 50 goals’ with Crosby
In Toronto, Phil Kessel‘s center was Tyler Bozak.
In Pittsburgh, Kessel is expected to start on a line with Sidney Crosby.
Think expectations are high for the newly acquired sniper?
“I think if he plays with Sid he can score 50 goals, at least,” said Pittsburgh’s other star center, Evgeni Malkin, per the National Post. “He’s got everything: the shot, the speed, he’s special.”
Over the last five years, Crosby’s most common wingers at even strength have been Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Last year, he spent most of his time with Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist.
Chemistry is a tough thing to predict, but in theory, both Crosby and Kessel have the burst to create scoring chances off the rush. If Crosby can get Kessel the puck in the right places, and do that often, in the words of Jonathan Toews, “we’re all in trouble.”
Related: “It’s hard to find players like Phil Kessel”
In Toronto, the focus is on the future after a summer of major changes, including trading Phil Kessel, marked the start of a new era that will require a building process. Leafs fans might not get as many glimpses of that future this season as the team is projected to still feature a prominently veteran cast, but one exception to that might be Kasperi Kapanen.
The 19-year-old forward was the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ package to pry Kessel away from Toronto, so it would certainly be a nice storyline if he establishes himself with the Maple Leafs this season.
“I was so close last year, and now I feel a lot better,” Kapanen told the Toronto Star. “I know what training camp is all about now.
He added, “I’m going to do everything I can to try to earn a spot. I know I’ll have a lot of good years with this team. I’m excited for the future.”
Kapanen had 11 goals and 21 points in 41 games with KalPa of the Finnish league last season. He does have some North American experience as he wrapped up the 2014-15 campaign with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, scoring three goals and five points in seven playoff contests. Even still, he might benefit from spending more time adjusting to North American hockey and honing his skills in the minors.
Toronto has 14 forwards inked to one-way contracts, although that includes Nathan Horton, who will probably spend the season on the long-term injured reserve list. In addition to those forwards though, the Maple Leafs have quite a few prospects that will be fighting for roster spots including Kapanen, Casey Bailey, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
That volume of competition should turn this into an interesting preseason for Toronto.
It remains to be seen if Phil Kessel can silence his critics with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he’s doing his part to put work ethic murmurs to bed.
Despite making scores of defensemen look foolish (and sometimes winded) with his immensely underrated foot-speed, people have railed on the sniper for “not looking like an athlete.” Maybe that will remain the case, but he’s dropped 13 lbs. this summer, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
Dreger notes that Kessel lost the weight after going through Gary Roberts’ vaunted off-season plan, which drew rave reviews from players such as Steven Stamkos over the years.
So, with that, where are we at on the list of Kessel beefs? (Sifts through “doesn’t play defense” and “is bad with the media.”)
Then again, there’s always the Kyle Wellwood corollary: what if he’s better off with a little extra beef?