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James van Riemsdyk: The center of Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup concerns

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Pop quiz: Who said the following quotes within the last year?

A. "I feel comfortable out there. … It's something I'm born with."

B. "I'm feeling more comfortable there than I used to be. There's more responsibilities. I have to think about being the first man in (the offensive zone) and the last man out, and there's different things to do defensively."

C. "I have played it a little bit in the past, and any time you can be a little more versatile as a player, it is definitely a good thing. I'm excited about that."

The first quote is from Ville Leino of the Buffalo Sabres, who signed a 6-year, $24-million contract with the Buffalo Sabres last summer to become their No. 2 center — a position he had played before but not in the NHL. By late October, a month in which he scored two points in 10 games, Leino had requested a return to the wing. By February, he said the shift to center was one of the primary factors in his disastrous first season with the Sabres.

The second quote is Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks, who moved to center out of necessity last season before shifting back to the wing when the move proved ineffective.

The third quote was from James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who is expected to play center when camp opens according to coach Randy Carlyle, who is the coach that moved previously Ryan to center. While it may fill a lineup hole for the Leafs, it's not inspiring confidence.

Here's Cam Charron of The Leafs Nation, on JVR potentially centering Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel:

If you look at most of JvR's goals, you don't see that play-controlling ability. Rather, much of his goals are a big guy using his size and strength in front of the net. It's certainly a good talent to have, but is this the player that Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle are really banking on making that first line defensively responsible to guarantee the unit a surplus in goals?

… Grabovski is still the best option up front. It would give that line a 60% possession rate and push at least one plus-possession winger, whether it's Nikolai Kulemin or van Riemsdyk, onto a third line. I just see so many more possibilities when you keep van Riemsdyk at wing. At centre, you're homogenizing the lineup. The Leafs were a 48% possession team without Kessel on the ice last season, and putting your only acquired forward asset with your top scorer isn't changing anything below.

JVR, to his credit, knows it's an awkward transition. From the Toronto Sun:

What would he anticipate as being the most difficult aspect of the transition?

"Getting that comfort (level) back with the position," van Riemsdyk said. "When you are used to something it is second-nature, so when you are out there not thinking and just playing, that is when you are at your best. Just be a matter of getting some reps in there and sure I will be fine."

I agree with Cam — even if JVR works as a center, it's homogenizing the lineup to load up the top line. But whether he works as a center is the real issue. Acquiring a winger from the Philadelphia Flyers to convert him to a primary offensive centerman — have we learned nothing from Ville Leino?

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