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Blackhawks' Kane, Flyers' van Riemsdyk forever linked through 2007 draft

JAMES VAN Riemsdyk is not Patrick Kane. He doesn't want to be. Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, is an established star, a 5-10, 178-pound right wing for the Blackhawks, an established part of the Crosby/Ovechkin wave.

Patrick Kane (left) and James van Riemsdyk were the first two picks in the 2007 NHL draft. (AP Photos)
Patrick Kane (left) and James van Riemsdyk were the first two picks in the 2007 NHL draft. (AP Photos)Read more

JAMES VAN Riemsdyk is not Patrick Kane.

He doesn't want to be.

Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, is an established star, a 5-10, 178-pound right wing for the Blackhawks, an established part of the Crosby/Ovechkin wave.

Van Riemsdyk, taken second in that draft, is a third-line left wing for the Flyers, a rookie 6-3, 211-pound hulk still developing his skills and his body.

They are friends, top products of the U.S. developmental program, and they are the only Americans to be taken with the first two picks in the draft. They will be forever linked by that day, and their time as teammates.

Three years later, both 21, both ascending, they meet as opponents in the Stanley Cup finals, which begin Saturday in Chicago.

"It's pretty cool," Kane said. "I played with him in the World Juniors that year and we ended up going No. 1 and 2 in the draft. I was rooting for him to go second after me because he's a good friend."

"There's definitely always going to be that history, from the draft, and we've played together, too," van Riemsdyk said. "All those comparisons are going to be drawn. We're completely different players, and we took completely different routes to get to where we are today."

How they got there could hardly have been more different.

That first overall pick, and therefore Kane, probably should have been the Flyers', but probability itself upset those plans. The Flyers, with the league's worst point total, had a 25 percent chance of winning the five-team lottery, and could pick no lower than second. Chicago, with the fifth-worst record and one of only four teams that could pass the Flyers, had an 8.6 percent chance.

But they had a chance. Kane was ready for cheesesteaks, but he got deep-dish pizza.

"They were ranked fifth and somehow got the first overall pick," Kane said. "So, sometimes luck works out that way for you. It seemed like Philly was going to have the No. 1 pick that year - and not to say that I knew I was going No. 1 - but you always wonder what different things would be like."

So, Kane went to Chicago and starred for two seasons. Van Riemsdyk went to the University of New Hampshire for two seasons, despite the protests of the Flyers.

The night before the teams met March 13 in Philadelphia, van Riemsdyk took Kane to dinner at a downtown steakhouse. They recalled their 2005-06 season playing together on the under-18 National Team Development Program and on the junior national team after that.

"He's one of my best buddies in hockey," van Riemsdyk said.

"Probably none of that will be happening in [this] series," Kane.

They talked frequently this year. They exchanged "Good job, good luck," texts when the Flyers won their conference final Monday, but, said van Riemsdyk, "I don't anticipate there being a lot of contact once the puck drops."

Not that sort of contact, anyway.

While Kane was making good on his promise, van Riemsdyk did little to help the Flyers' Cup aspirations until he began the comeback over the Bruins in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. With a ferocious physical presence and inspired play, he scored the goal that began the rise from the 3-0 hole. It was his first goal of the postseason.

By the time van Riemsdyk scored that first playoff goal, Kane had become part of the NHL's most recent facelift.

Kane had won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 2007-08, logged a playoff hat trick en route to the 2009 conference finals, earned the cover of the EA Sports NHL 10 video game and was pushing his Blackhawks to the conference finals again.

Kane also had been arrested and, months later, had been caught half-naked in the back of a limo.

Last August, Kane and his cousin faced felony charges but eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in connection with an incident involving a dispute with a cabbie over 20 cents in change.

Then, in January, risque pictures of a shirtless Kane with women in a limousine surfaced, an incident after which he allowed that he needed to "grow up."

By then, van Riemsdyk had done his growing up.

He played college hockey, growing stronger and more skilled, steadily progressing from his pedestrian freshman season to his outstanding sophomore year. Never, he said, did he wish for Kane's accolades . . . or for Kane's trials.

"I wasn't as ready as Pat was to make that jump right away," van Riemsdyk said. "It was the right way for me."

Maybe Kane wasn't ready, either. His spectacular play and his dreamy looks made him the perfect vehicle for hockey's rebirth in Chicago.

"That's what happens when you get thrust into the spotlight like that; things like that do happen occasionally," van Riemsdyk said. "I'm sure he's learned from it, and moved on."

Van Riemsdyk looks back at the 2 years in college as more than a means by which to develop his game.

"It helps you develop as a person as well. It puts you in some situations . . . away from the spotlight," van Riemsdyk said. "In the NHL, as an 18-year-old, lighting up the league - he's thrust into the spotlight and put in a lot of tough situations. He's kind of the face of their franchise and one of the best-known faces in the league right now."

Van Riemsdyk was content to be a well-known face at the mouth of the Oyster River.

"Going to college, being that big fish in a small pond, you learn a little bit about how to handle yourself. At this level, it's magnified," van Riemsdyk said. "People getting a little jealous, wanting a piece of you, waiting for you to screw up and do something stupid."

Van Riemsdyk wasn't screwing up those 2 years, but he wasn't flowering under the Flyers' guidance, either. He wasn't flowering at all early in the playoffs.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren is the gardener in this equation, and he didn't like what he'd seen from the rookie in his playoff debut. The speed and hitting of a regular-season game cannot compare with the pace of the postseason.

Van Riemsdyk, breathless, was virtually absent from Game 1 against the Devils. Holmgren pulled him aside the next day.

"I asked him why he thought he played 5 minutes in that game," Holmgren said.

Van Riemsdyk replied that, since he doesn't play on special teams, the number of power plays and penalty kills cut his time. Holmgren laughed as he recalled the answer:

"I told him, 'That may be the case, but I think the coach would like you to play more than 5 minutes, if you're ready to take part in the little things that you need to do at this time of the year. You need to win board battles.' "

Van Riemsdyk listened. He had an assist in the next game, which he played with a vigor that he has sustained, earning himself almost 12 minutes. His average time on the ice has more than doubled, more closely approaching his regular-season average of almost 13 minutes. The sense is, it will increase further as van Riemsdyk becomes more adept at throwing his weight around.

"Nobody questions James' skill or ability when he's in open ice. He can make things happen," Holmgren said. "But he's still got to figure out that this time of year it's about winning battles and being competitive."

As van Riemsdyk grows stronger, and heavier, said Holmgren, physicality will follow. So, too, should more prolific stats.

Kane is third in the playoffs with 20 points. Van Riemsdyk has four.

Kane has 230 points in his regular-season career. Van Riemsdyk had 34 as a rookie regular who was slated to start the season in the minors.

Any apples-to-apples comparison, for now, is folly.

"Patrick Kane is already a star. He is one of the elite players of the game," Holmgren said. "James is just a player trying to figure it out on most nights. Some games he looks great, some games he just looks like a regular player. It is unfair."

You get the idea the Flyers want their rookie to play within himself, complementing linemates Claude Giroux and Arron Asham, as he looks on and sees Kane working magic.

"Sometimes you forget how young they are," said coach Peter Laviolette, who, like most accomplished speakers, uses his hands when he speaks intently. He uses his hands when he talks about van Riemsdyk:

"It's a man's league. You're playing against . . . [Bruins bruiser] Zdeno Chara. Those are tough minutes to try and figure out when you're on the ice and you're just a kid. I think he's in a good spot right now, playing with Giroux. He's done an excellent job."

Good enough, anyway, said Holmgren: "I'm very pleased with his development . . . We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with what James can do. James is more of a projection right now with what he's going to be. He's going to have to write the rest of that story."

The next chapter begins Saturday, with built-in subtext and drama. So far, the plot has been pleasant for both principals.

"I couldn't be happier to be in Philly. I know Pat's happy to be in Chicago," van Riemsdyk said.

Kane agreed: "I guess it turned out good for both of us."

Daily News sports writer Frank Seravalli and correspondent Jack McCarthy contributed to this story.