Why James van Riemsdyk should be in for a career year in 2019-20

The Flyers saw a good return on their initial investment a year ago, but the returns are primed to skyrocket this time around.

Not too long ago we looked at a few breakout candidates for the Flyers in 2019-20, but there’s one player who should be in for a big season that doesn’t fall under that category.

Five breakout candidates for the Flyers in 2019-20

In his first year back in Philadelphia after signing a five-year, $35 million contract in free agency, James van Riemsdyk provided the Flyers with 27 goals and 21 assists in 66 games. The former No. 2 overall pick was dogged by an early injury that robbed him of a slew of games, but still managed the second-best goals per game average of his career (.41) after a career-high (.44) mark in his last season with the Maple Leafs.

Acquired by then-GM Ron Hextall, JVR was brought in to fill the net, and you really have to wonder where the Flyers would have been without his production given the they finished just 18th overall in goals per game in 2018-19. He did finish second on the team in goal scoring, six behind the immaculate Sean Couturier (who played in 14 more games, carrying the same .41 goals per game pace).

While JVR’s production was badly needed a year ago, there are signs pointing to even bigger things for the winger in the second season of his second term in the City of Brotherly Love.

Oh hey did you know the Flyers actually have a second line center now? His name is Kevin Hayes and he’s really freaking good. Hayes has been a plus possession player in each of his last three seasons despite playing on some bad Rangers teams. He’s immediately better than any center other than Sean Couturier that JVR skated with last season. His ability to draw defenders and create space for his linemates is a huge plus, and he can really distribute the puck too with a career-high 36 assists with the Rangers and Jets last year. Adding Hayes will help the Flyers get even more out of JVR at 5-on-5, where the extra possession time earned should only add to the already strong 35 points the New Jersey native put up in a shortened season.

But Kevin Hayes ain’t the only reason that JVR is primed for a big 2018-19, the Flyers’ perplexing power play is the other.

The Flyers fell to 23rd in the league on the power play (17%) a season ago after averaging out to the NHL’s fifth-best power play from 2010-18. That’s a steep drop-off considering that many skilled pieces are in place like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere. In the middle of that is JVR, who was expected to pot power play goal after goal with that group. But it didn’t quite figure that way with JVR notching eight goals and five assists with the extra man as the Flyers’ power play really struggled at times.

Perhaps keeping Giroux on the right side of the ice would help matters, but the fact remains that they simply have too much talent not to be a top-10 power play. Maybe the time JVR missed right at the beginning of the season —essentially— threw the group out of rhythm and they never really got it back. New assistant and longtime bench boss Michel Therrien will be tabbed by head coach Alain Vigneault to get the absolute most out of the unit in 2019-20, a job that shouldn’t be all too hard if the group plays to their potential.

It’s no secret the Flyers haven’t been very good this exhibition season —at least in terms of wins— but there have been some good individual performances and JVR has been among them. He made a great pass from behind the goal line to Travis Konecny for a goal the other night, and should be able to distribute more with Hayes helping create more space out there. You can’t put a ton of stock in anything preseason related, but it’s always better to see a guy looking like he’s hitting the ground running than the opposite.

The 2019-20 Flyers are a better team on paper than they were a year ago, but if they want to get themselves back into the Stanley Cup playoff picture they’ll need a hell of a year from JVR on the way if they’re to do it. The addition of Kevin Hayes in the offseason and the rebound of the Flyers’ once-feared power play will propel JVR to another 30-goal season, and perhaps flirt with his first 40-goal campaign.

Statistics courtesy of hockeyreference, NHL