TORONTO - The Flyers were so rich with talent down the middle that the services of James Van Riemsdyk were never required in such a capacity.
In Toronto, the prospects are considerably different.
The Leafs have been chasing a top-flight centre since Mats Sundin left town and are open to the idea of moving their most recent trade acquisition back to the position he played for two seasons at the University of New Hampshire.
Meeting the media for the first time in Toronto as a Leaf on Wednesday morning, Van Riemsdyk was receptive to the thought. "It's something that would be a good opportunity for me I think," said Vans Riemsdyk, appearing at a hockey clinic at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke. "I've played a little bit in the past and when you can be a little bit more versatile as a player I think it's always a good thing.
"In Philly, we had an abundance of centres there so we didn't really ever need me to do that ever, but obviously this is a new opportunity for me and that would be a great thing for me to try."
Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere were just a few of the names looming ahead of Van Riemsdyk down the middle during a three-year stint in Philadelphia, circumstances which drove a seemingly permanent move to the wing. A late June trade to Toronto (for Luke Schenn) altered the possibility of those fortunes with head coach Randy Carlyle openly opining on the prospect in recent comments to the Toronto Sun. The second overall pick in the '07 draft, the six-foot-three, 200 pound Van Riemsdyk has already reached out to his new head coach for video, hoping to gain an understanding of expectations heading into training camp. "I asked him for some stuff that he would like to see out of his centreman," said Van Riemsdyk, "just so it's a little bit easier of a transition when I get here for camp."
Van Riemsdyk's receptiveness to such a move provides at the very least a welcome option for Carlyle. Searching for ideas himself while behind the bench in Toronto, Ron Wilson theorized on a similar notion with Phil Kessel, only to be rebuffed on most occasions by the budding winger.
While heavy in numbers at centre - Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Mikhail Grabovski, David Steckel and Jay McClement among them - the Leafs are still short that first-class pivot to pair with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the first line. With speed, size and skill, Van Riemsdyk has the credentials to potentially fill such a void.
Call it a low-risk, high reward gamble in strategy, one that Van Riemsdyk, Carlyle and the Leafs appear willing to take.