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Optimizing the Flyers lineup with new addition James van Riemsdyk

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JVR is back, but where will he play? Let’s take a look at the main options.

Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It’s never too early to think about potential line combinations, right? With the news of James van Riemsdyk’s return to Philadelphia on 5-year contract worth $35,000,000, the Flyers have their new (old?) top-6 winger, and more importantly, will be bringing in the type of player they so desperately need – a volume shooter.

Coming off a 36-goal season as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, van Riemsdyk, 29, as you all know, was a member of the Flyers for three full seasons before being traded to Toronto for Luke Schenn. Yeah, that trade had to be brought up again, my apologies. Back to present day, during the 2017-18 regular season van Riemsdyk led the Leafs in individual shot attempts at 5-on-5 with 18.62 iCF/60, a number that was beat by only nine other forwards last season. It’s something the Flyers have been lacking for quite some time now — take last season for example. Travis Konecny led all Flyers’ forwards with 13.62 iCF/60, the second-lowest team leading shot rate in the entire league, and he’s more known as a set-up man.

When it comes to the Flyers’ top six forwards, the “who” is already clear - Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Konency, Nolan Patrick, and now, van Riemsdyk — but the question of where they’re going to play remains. For the sake of narrowing the options, let’s assume the Flyers will use van Riemsdyk strictly as a left wing, his natural position.

Option one: Patrick + Voracek

This option seems to be the most likely. Not only does it allow you keep the Giroux, Couturier, and Konecny line together, it also keeps Voracek and Patrick on the same line. In short, it shakes up the lineup the least.

While the trio of Oskar Lindblom, Patrick, and Voracek performed admirably in their time together towards the end of the regular season, Lindblom’s lack of production, even with it being such a small sample size, will likely lead to him losing his spot in the top six to van Riemsdyk. Plus, you know, the fact that he’s nowhere near van Riemsdyk’s level –- the guy’s a 30-goal scorer. Both Patrick and Voracek are known as pass-first players, and should benefit from potentially playing alongside van Riemsdyk.

Where van Riemsdyk’s game falls short, Voracek and Patrick can do more than just pick up the slack. With Voracek’s strong transition game, Patrick’s natural progression as a young player, and van Riemsdyk’s shooting talent, it’s not unreasonable to think that the Flyers could have two first lines heading into the 2018-19 season under this scenario.

The four “veteran” players in the top six are pretty much universally considered to be top line talents at this point of their careers, and Konecny produced like one when he played alongside Giroux and Couturier. The only weak link someone could point to would be Patrick, rightfully so based on his full season numbers, but he did show signs of improvement during the second half of the season, a topic that we covered back in April, and actually produced like a second liner over the final three months of the season. Should the Flyers choose to go with this combination, it wouldn’t be the first time that van Riemdsyk and Voracek played on the same line.

Projected top nine under option one:

Giroux - Couturier - Konency

van Riemsdyk - Patrick - Voracek

Lindblom - Frost/Vorobyev - Simmonds

Option two: Giroux + Voracek/Konecny

This scenario is a bit trickier, but involves reuniting a duo that was a big success in the past, most notably during the 2009-10 regular season. Yup, we’re talking about reuniting van Riemsdyk with Giroux. Although Ron Hextall didn’t rule out the possibility of Giroux returning to the center position, I find it highly unlikely that they’d take him off of Couturier’s wing after the season they just had together, but who knows! They could! So let’s explore it a bit.

While it became a running joke, insert player name - Giroux - Voracek was the reality of the Flyers’ situation for a solid three or four years in a row. While Scott Hartnell had his moments, van Riemsdyk would be the best left wing that duo had played with. We’ve seen Giroux and Voracek work their magic at 5-on-5 over the years without having that prolific goalscorer next to them, one can only imagine the damage they could do with a player like van Riemsdyk on their line.

Now, If you were to put Konecny on the line instead of Voracek the top two lines would be a bit more balanced, but would also have the team’s two most efficient shooters on the same line. The term spread the wealth comes to mind here. Couturier and Voracek have a history of working well together, does Lindblom have the finishing talent to make that line productive? Maybe, but he hasn’t shown it thus far and if not him, who? Simmonds at left wing never seemed to stick in the past, but maybe they’d try him there again.

The main negative here is the fact that this option does have the most impact on the rest of the roster. Either Patrick or Couturier would become the third line center, and someone, likely Lindblom, would be promoted to a top six role. So, while I can see the appeal here, I don’t see this as the Flyers’ best option nor do I see them actually doing this. However, that center depth is quite intriguing.

Projected top nine under option two:

van Riemsdyk - Giroux - Voracek/Konecny

Lindblom - Couturier - Konecny/Voracek

Raffl/Weal - Patrick - Simmonds

Option three: Couturier + Giroux

That leaves us with option three, maybe the most unique one of the bunch. It starts with moving Giroux back to the position that he broke into the league as, right wing.

First things first, the potential of a van Riemsdyk - Couturier - Giroux line is exciting. A quick look at Corsica’s player ratings leads me to believe that only five other teams could build a line with a better average than this trio. If they clicked, they could be one of the best lines in the league.

Now, the downside is that the top line would actually lose a bit of creativity. Konecny is a better passer than van Riemsdyk and also has a much better transition game, maybe even the second best on the team behind Voracek. Giroux and Couturier would be heavily relied upon for zone exits and entries, and while they’re not particularly bad in that area of the game, Konecny has had more success there. That’s one of the main benefits of keeping Voracek and Konecny on separate lines - they are both great players in the neutral zone. Under this scenario, they’d be playing together on the same line.

It’s a risk for sure, this would be Giroux’s third position in three years and his first at right wing in about a decade, but might lead to the top line with the biggest potential. It keeps Giroux with Couturier and gives them another 30 goalscorer to play with. The second line could be great as well, but Hakstol may have an extremely hard time trusting a line that has both Konecny and Patrick on it. That’s quite the young line.

Projected top nine under option three:

van Riemsdyk - Couturier - Giroux

Konecny - Patrick - Voracek

Lindblom - Frost/Vorobyev - Simmonds

Statistics courtesy of corsica.hockey

Poll

Which line do you think makes the most sense for the team?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Option one: JVR - Patrick - Voracek
    (2157 votes)
  • 3%
    Option two: JVR - Giroux - Voracek/Konecny
    (91 votes)
  • 9%
    Option three: JVR - Couturier - Giroux
    (245 votes)
2493 votes total Vote Now