James van Riemsdyk appears set to return; young cancer patient given 1-day contract with Flyers
After missing 16 games with a knee injury, the left winger apparently will return to the lineup Thursday.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he doesn't know whether James van Riemsdyk will return to the lineup Thursday against New Jersey, but, based on where the left winger played in practice Wednesday, it appears he will be on the third line and first power-play unit.
Van Riemsdyk has missed 16 games because of an injured right knee.
"Obviously, when you're out this long, you get that extra sense of excitement" to return, van Riemsdyk, a 36-goal scorer last season with Toronto, said after the practice in Voorhees. "When I get a chance to get back in there, I'll be ready to go."
Hakstol said van Riemsdyk "looked good today … both on specialty teams and on the line. For the first time, he's been able to have a full practice on a full line."
Van Riemsdyk, who might need a few games before he gets in sync with his expected linemates, Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds, worked with the first power-play unit, a sign that he will probably return against the Devils. He was on a unit with Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Voracek had been on the second unit recently after being a staple on the top unit.
"I feel like I never left," he said.
Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick went back to the second unit, which also had Simmonds, Weal, and Ivan Provorov.
The return of the player they call "JVR" should boost the Flyers offense.
"He's a big body in front of the net; he's a great player that can score goals," Voracek said. "Obviously, we missed him over a period of time, especially on the power play. He's a really smart player around the net, and he's going to help us a lot. He's got really soft hands, and he can make plays out of nothing. He can raise the puck under the bar from impossible angles, so he kind of gives goalies a little bit more [to] respect."
While the penalty kill is much maligned — it has allowed at least one goal in 10 of the last 11 games — the power play has quietly struggled, as well, going 2-for-28 in the last 10 games.
Clean entries have been problematic.
"You have to have guys moving their feet and on the same page on entries," Voracek said. "It's really important. If one guy is off, then somebody else is expecting you to be in the second position and if you're not there, the puck is gone."
When you consider that the Flyers have outscored their opponents on special teams in just one game, the Oct. 4 opener in Vegas, it's amazing they have a 9-8-1 record, a credit to their five-on-five play.
Luke Rogers, 14, who is battling leukemia, was recently cleared to resume skating and he signed a one-day contract Wednesday with the Flyers. After their practice, he skated with his idol, van Riemsdyk, and took shots at Cal Pickard.
"My whole life I wanted to meet him," Rogers said of van Riemsdyk.
Rogers is from the same Monmouth County area as van Riemsdyk, and he skates at the same rink where the left winger played as a youngster.
"It really ate away with me," Rogers said of his time off the ice. "Hockey is my life and has always been my life."
His medical treatments will end in February, and he said signing a contract with general manager Ron Hextall was "my dream. Hopefully, I'll get to do it down the road again with another professional sports team, and maybe even this one."
Based on practice, it appears Jori Lehtera will be a healthy scratch Thursday and Scott Laughton will be the fourth-line center. In that scenario, rookie right winger Nic Aube-Kubel would stay in the lineup. … Dale Weise missed practice because his son had a medical procedure. … Injured Devils center Nico Hischier has not been ruled out for Thursday's game. Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) and a minus-3 rating in 15 games. Flyers center Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick that year, has nine points (five goals, four assists) and an "even" rating. … After a 4-0 start, the Devils (7-8-1) have won three of their last 12 games. … The Flyers power play is 28th (13.6 percent success rate) and the penalty kill is 30th (70.3 percent) out of 31 teams. … Carter Hart stopped 35 of 37 shots and T.J. Brennan scored the winner Wednesday as the Phantoms defeated visiting Charlotte in overtime, 3-2, before a sellout crowd.