OTTAWA – Wrapped around the left wrist of James van Riemsdyk, the 23-year-old Leafs sniper, is a black bracelet bearing a simple inscription. 'Own The Moment', it reads.
And in the early stages of his first season in Toronto, van Riemsdyk has done just that. After 18 games, he has scored 11 goals, bested league-wide only by the likes of Thomas Vanek and James Neal. Previously a member of the New Jersey Devils, Mark Fraser squared off against van Riemsdyk when he was first entering the league as a Flyer. He notices a different player these days. "He was always a phenomenal player, there was no secret about that," Fraser told TSN.ca prior to the team's departure to Ottawa for a Saturday clash wtih the Senators. "The difference – and maybe because I've been able to see more of him on a day in, day out basis – his jump right now is phenomenal. He's just carrying this confidence that maybe he had before, but it's certainly coming out in his game [now]."
Swagger? "Absolutely," Fraser agreed. "I'd say he has a healthy swagger right now to his game."
Highly touted as a second overall pick coming out of the University of New Hampshire, van Riemsdyk had flurries of similar success in Philadelphia, but never quite broke out in sustained fashion. It's evident that he felt capable of doing much more as a Flyer. Asked his first thoughts upon being dealt to Toronto last summer, a move spearheaded by former Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, van Riemsdyk revealed those lingering feelings. "It just seemed like I was really wanted here," he said. "I think [Burke] liked my style of play on the ice and thought I could be a good player in this league and he was willing to take a chance for that. Obviously I appreciate that for him bringing me here, to play on this team, in this city. It was a good opportunity and I've been able to run with it."
Helping to orchestrate that opportunity and the subsequent success is Randy Carlyle, a likely key figure in the molding of van Riemsdyk's career. As practice wound down on Friday afternoon, the two shared a brief, but seemingly meaningful conversation. "He wants me to continue to play within the identity of the team and continue to do things that make me successful up there," van Riemsdyk said. "It's no earth shattering news. I know what I need to do to be successful, to help the team win, so I'm going to have to continue to do that."
Carlyle gently prodded van Riemsdyk early in the year, asking that he visit "the dirty areas a little bit more". The American-born winger took the challenge and ran hard with it. Of the 11 goals he's scored so far, four have seen him charge to the front of the net with another four coming on rebounds or redirections in or just outside the blue paint.
van Riemsdyk has shown glimpses of this kind of potential before, most prominently during the 2011 playoffs when he emerged with seven goals in 11 games for the Flyers. He continued to scratch the surface last year, storming out of the gate with eight goals and 16 points in the opening two months, only to trail off with just one goal and three points in December. "I think that's the difference between just being a good player and trying to get yourself established into one of those great players is just the consistency of it," he said. "I've had a pretty decent run here to start the season and I've just got to try to be as consistent as possible the rest of the year."
"Keep scoring goals," he noted, "keep helping the team offensively, keep being responsible defensively. That's just what I've got to continue to do."