Let’s rewind back to the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are fresh off drafting their top pick Morgan Rielly at 5th overall and Brian Burke was still probing for a way to improve his club but this time up front.
Burke had made it clear his goal was to upgrade the skill level and in describing his latest target as a “thoroughbred’, he knew his man was the young Philadelphia Flyer James van Riemsdyk.
What would it take to pry a player who was the 2nd overall pick just 4 years earlier? “He’s a young guy, he’s a right shot, he’s a big defenseman that plays physical and gritty, and he can move the puck,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren described. The only player on the Leafs roster that fit this description was Luke Schenn.
A Chris Pronger replacement was what Holmgren wanted, and he was prepared to fork over a big, powerful, goal-scoring forward.
Have mercy on him, how could he know what would transpire over the next 6 years?
In my humble opinion, this is the best trade the Toronto Maple Leafs have made in the past 2 decades.
With 34 goals and counting, JvR is having the best scoring season of his career. And what better timing could he have, as he (barring a miracle Leafs signing) heads into his first summer as a UFA.
For years, he’s taken a beating in front of opposing goaltenders and made space for his smaller line mates. He’s an adept passer, and came into the league as a big power forward who had speed and a wicked wrister. He’s got it all.
He’s also been playing in the shadows a little bit. Success was always merely a by-product of having Phil Kessel on his line. As we can see now, that was terribly unjust. It’s been three seasons without #81 at his side, as look at what he’s done:
2015/2016*: 40 GP – 14G – 15A – 29pts – +3
2016/2017: 82 GP – 29G – 33 A – 62pts – -2 (career best point total)
2017/2018: 75 GP – 34 G – 18 A – 52pts – +2 (career high in goals)
*(Including +/- as he improved from a -33 the previous season)
*season cut short with broken foot, placed on IR
Give this man the respect he deserves!
The good news for him is that he’s probably about to get it in the form of this new deal, much to the dismay of Leafs fans everywhere.
On June 23rd 2012 Holmgren had some very kind words about the young stud he had just dealt, “I think I’ve told you enough about how strongly I feel about James becoming a good player, and I believe he will become a very good player in our League. Unfortunately for us, I think it’s going to be for Toronto now.”
He was right. JvR’s going to have a lot of success in his future still, unfortunately for Toronto I don’t think it’s going to be there.