By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter @cookejournalism
Last season was an exciting time to be a Boston Bruins fan. As the team cruised to an NHL-best 135 points with their dominant 65-12-5 regular season showing, nothing would stop the Black and Gold on their quest for the Stanley Cup. However, the hearts of Bruins fans were crushed when the eighth-seeded Florida Panthers stunned the Bruins in the seventh game of the opening round of the playoffs, ultimately cutting Boston’s season short months earlier than expected.
The historic upset marked the end of an era in Boston. With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci’s future unknown, the organization’s next steps were unclear. After going all in for a Stanley Cup, general manager Don Sweeney was forced to free up some cap space. He parted ways with Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno before losing out on Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov in free agency.
In an off-season full of subtractions, Sweeney took heavy criticism for his few additions, including grizzled veteran James van Riemsdyk. Signing a 34-year-old wasn’t attractive to a Bruins fanbase who just had the Stanley Cup at their fingertips. Fast forward to November, and the Bruins have proved their doubters wrong. Their 11-1-2 start to the season is currently the second-best record in the NHL, and van Riemsdyk has had his name written all over it.
Van Riemsdyk has been a pleasant surprise on Boston’s second line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic, who all contributed to a Coyle hat-trick in Boston’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. Van Riemsdyk collected two assists in the win, including a great find to Frederic to open up the scoring.
“We’re really just on the same page with what our strengths are as players and how we want to try and play,” van Riemsdyk said following the win. “It’s one of those things where I think we seem to see each other really well out there and kind of understand where the other guys are trying to be to support the puck and get open.”
Van Riemsdyk has been finding the stat sheet all season. His 11 points are already the fourth most on the team in what looks like a breakout season for the veteran forward. After playing alongside David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha, Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery moved the forward to a second-line role with Coyle and Frederic. As Montgomery continues to experiment with different line combinations, van Riemsdyk will likely find himself in the middle of it. However, his willingness to adjust on the fly has been evident.
“That’s a part of any good team,” he said on moving around in the lineup. “Depending on different matchups and things like that, you need to have some versatility and flexibility within the team and within the lineup.”
The 6’3″, 208-pound winger has also succeeded in a net-front role on the power play. In last night’s 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadians, van Riemsdyk deflected a shot to Brad Marchand for an easy tap in goal. He took away the goaltender’s eyes, using a quick stick to redirect the puck to an uncovered Marchand. What looks like a subtle play is crucial to the overall production of the power play unit.
As it turns out, the addition of van Riemsdyk has proved to be an upgrade from Tyler Bertuzzi, who has been held to just six points so far this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although it’s unlikely van Riemsdyk will keep up his early season pace, he’s been a solid top-six forward to complement some of Boston’s offensive-minded players.
The left-winger’s offensive contributions are only the latest surprise to Bruins fans this season. A team that once looked like they were going to be longing for production is now seeing goal scorers up and down the lineup. Whether it’s 19-year-old Matthew Poitras or van Riemsdyk, age is not a limitation to lighting the lamp this season in Boston.