Bit of a media blitz in the last 12 hours relating to the possibility of James van Riemsdyk playing at centre between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul:
The major takeaway from van Riemsdyk’s initial meeting with Maple Leafs beat writers was, indeed, that JvR is “definitely excited” about the possibility and “it’s a great opportunity for him”.
The National Post, and both the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun made that the major focus on their reports. Naturally, it’s the big story, but does JvR really fit into the centreman position on this team?
Again, I’m squarely in the “Mikhail Grabovski is the best centreman on this team” camp. Grabovski is the two-way centreman the Leafs need on that first line. Kessel and Lupul are suspect defensively and Grabovski’s game off the rush fits right into their style of play.
If you look at most of JvR’s goals, you don’t see that play-controlling ability. Rather, much of his goals are a big guy using his size and strength in front of the net. It’s certainly a good talent to have, but is this the player that Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle are really banking on making that first line defensively responsible to guarantee the unit a surplus in goals?
Sure, in both of these goals, there’s a good burst of speed generated, but he’s not the last man back in either of his goals off the rush last season:
And the second…
Compared to Kessel, Lupul and Grabovski who score between 50%-65% of their goals off the rush, just 2 of JvR’s 7 even strength goals last year did. I think it’s a good thing to have on that first line wing to balance up the attack a little, but is he the guy to lead a rush or to be the first forward back into the zone?
The amount of attention being given to the possibility of van Riemsdyk starting the year at centre makes me think the Leafs may go through with this crazy idea if no other options become available. If New Jersey’s financial trouble doesn’t free up Travis Zajac, or if the classic options like Colin Wilson or Paul Stastny can’t be obtained by Toronto, then the Leafs may feel they’re up the creek at forward.
Grabovski is still the best option up front. It would give that line a 60% possession rate and push at least one plus-possession winger, whether it’s Nikolai Kulemin or van Riemsdyk, onto a third line. I just see so many more possibilities when you keep van Riemsdyk at wing. At centre, you’re homogenizing the lineup. The Leafs were a 48% possession team without Kessel on the ice last season, and putting your only acquired forward asset with your top scorer isn’t changing anything below.
Hopefully there’s a solution in the works.