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NHL Free Agency 2018: James van Riemsdyk could be a lethal addition to the Golden Knights

Coming off a 36-goal campaign, JVR could be just what Vegas is looking for.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

James van Riemsdyk is one of the best power forwards in the NHL because of his elite combination of speed, size and skill, and the Golden Knights should be one of many teams with interest. The 29-year-old, originally selected second overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, has spent the last six seasons with Toronto but is likely to move on in free agency as he is due for a hefty pay raise.

Strengths

Van Riemsdyk, or JVR, has many strengths to his game, all of which stem from his play in the offensive zone. One of the more distinguishable ones is his ability in front of the net, especially on the power play. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, JVR uses his large frame for positioning, and he’s one of the best at turning redirections, rebounds and loose pucks into scoring chances and goals. In fact, he has some of the best hands in the game, especially in tight.

He’s an underrated passer as well, but it’s his goal scoring that makes him one of the top targets in free agency.

JVR is coming off a career high in goals with 36, 11 of which came on the man advantage (another personal best). The other 25 were scored at even strength, which ranked tied for 14th in the NHL.

He has scored 30 goals twice, 25 goals four times and 20 goals five times, though he was on pace for 30 goals in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season as well. His point totals don’t scream top-line winger (54, 62 in the last two years, respectively), but he has become one of the more reliable scorers in recent years, and he has done so while playing with less-than-ideal linemates. JVR has 65 combined goals in the last two seasons, good for 15th overall in the NHL in that time.

JVR’s possession statistics also reveal a lot about his value as an offensive force. He finished the 2017-18 season with a 54.28 Corsi For percentage, which was the highest on the Maple Leafs among forwards who played at least 10 games. He also managed a 51.49 percent shot share, 53.01 percent goal share, 57.27 percent scoring chance share and 57.7 percent high-danger share.

Speaking of shot share, JVR likes to shoot the puck. A lot. He recorded 248 shots in 2017-18, which came out to 3.1 shots per game. He has averaged 3.1, 2.9, 3.2, 3.02, 3.49 and 2.92 shots per game in the last six years in Toronto, respectively. The only Vegas skater who took more shots last year (248) was Jonathan Marchessault (268), though Marchessault was a first-line winger whereas JVR played third-line minutes.

Weaknesses

As strong as many of JVR’s possession numbers may be, the data is somewhat skewed considering the context of his zone starts. He started 62.7 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2017-18, which was the second-highest percentage of his career. While that is an indication of his offensive capabilities, it points to JVR’s great weakness: defense.

As dynamic as he may be in the offensive zone, JVR is a different player at the other end of the rink. Once he shifts to defense, he often neglects to use his size and strength to win puck battles along the boards, and he often shies away from engaging in board battles altogether. You might call it a simple lack of effort, or a lack of focus and intensity. However, one might even call it laziness, and it’s not something head coaches appreciate in today’s fast-paced game. It’s especially disappointing considering how effective JVR could be given his build and strength, but he is not that kind of player, or at least he hasn’t shown it yet.

His lack of engagement elsewhere on the ice shows up in other categories as well, though. He managed just 0.5 hits per game, 0.3 blocks per game and 0.36 takeaways per game, all career lows.

Fit with the Golden Knights

Van Riemsdyk signed a six-year, $25.5 million contract with the Flyers in August of 2011 but was traded less than a year later. It didn’t take long for the $4.25 million cap hit to seem ludicrous given how effective he became.

At this point, there’s no way that JVR would consider anything south of $6 million per year, and he will be seeking a long-term contract because of his age and his value.

Given the appeal of a 36-goal scorer who brings a major net-front presence and can help the power play, this could turn into a bidding war, which could drive the price up above $7 million and, potentially, closer to $8 million. The fact that the Golden Knights have nearly $31 million of cap space will not hurt their chances should they enter the JVR sweepstakes, and it would be foolish not to.

Consider the fact that JVR played six seasons in Toronto without a top-six center. Should he land in Vegas, it’s likely he’d slot in on the second line next to Erik Haula (and perhaps eventually Cody Glass), though it’s always possible he could break up the top line to play with William Karlsson, though that’s unlikely.

However, the fact that Vegas could very well have JVR on the second line shows how lethal an additional he could be if added to this lineup. Improving from Bozak to one of the Vegas centers could be enough to get JVR to put up 40 goals, if not more, and getting nearly 40 goals from a second-line winger is something most teams cannot do.

But the greatest potential for JVR in Vegas is his role on the power play, which is very much in need of improvement. JVR stands in front of the net, screens the goalie and gets to loose pucks.

Currently, the Knights only have eight wingers signed for next year, and JVR is arguably better than every single one of them. If he could clean up his defensive game a bit and start using his size and strength more in his own end, he could reach a whole new level.

Those are just a few of the reasons why Vegas should offer JVR a six-year contract with at least $6 million per year, if not north of $7 million or seven years. While a seven-year deal would keep him under contract until age 36, JVR still has a lot of good years left in him, and if that’s the price to acquire a winger like him, it’s a price worth paying.