Back in 2011, when James van Riemsdyk was a lad of just 21, an abbreviated playoff run conjured up memories of Keith Primeau's Herculean 16-point effort in powering an injury-plagued Flyers team to the brink of the Stanley Cup Finals seven years before. Swooping to the net sometimes, anchoring in front of it at other times, JVR scored seven goals in 11 games as the Flyers advanced to the conference semifinals before getting swept by the Bruins.
There were differences of course, as there are now. Primeau was a veteran, 32-year-old, broad-shouldered, 6-foot-5 center, a faceoff master who had scored just seven regular-season goals that year in his role as a checking-line center. Van Riemsdyk, 6-3, was then and is now, as he enters a second stint with the Flyers, an offensive-minded left winger who blossomed into a 30-goal scorer after being traded to Toronto for Luke Schenn in 2012.
But it was hard not to be reminded of the similarities when van Riemsdyk, now a 29-year-old free agent signed by the Flyers this summer to a five-year, $35 million deal, pulled on a Flyers jersey with 25 — Primeau's old number — as he was formally reintroduced to the Philadelphia fandom during a news conference Wednesday at Skate Zone in Voorhees.
"It's a new time, new change, new challenge," van Riemsdyk said in explaining why he didn't attempt to regain his old No. 21 from Scott Laughton. "I wanted to have something to reflect that. And obviously I switched [to 25] in Toronto.''
He did so after the Maple Leafs decided to retire 21 in honor of Borje Salming in 2016. By then, van Riemsdyk had recorded two consecutive seasons of 55 points or more, his role expanded by a team that was in the same sort of youthful rebuilding project on which the Flyers are now putting the finishing touches.
Having amassed 116 points in the two seasons since switching to 25, van Riemsdyk is the most recent of those finishing touches. Projected to play either on a first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier or alongside Nolan Patrick on a potent second one, he should bolster an offense that last season finished 12th in goals scored.
"The great thing is there's lots of great options," he said. "There's lots of talented players, and for me, there's lots of good right-shot players. Being a lefty, it's fun to play with right-shot players. I think that chemistry comes a little more naturally with that sort of stuff.
"Everything about the fit here seemed to be great. Lots of talented players to play with, and I think a lot of good youth, too, on the way, which is exciting. The thing about the Flyers — the first thing I noticed [when] I was drafted here is that they'll do whatever it takes to win. So that's every resource you could possibly want and need to hopefully find an edge. That's kind of the way it's been here forever. You want to be in a situation like that: Where, every year, no matter what it is, we're going to do what it takes to find a way to win."
General manager Ron Hextall said negotiations with defenseman Robert Hagg are progressing, aimed at a two-year deal. Asked if he planned to pursue any remaining free agents or trades, he said, "I think we're probably done." … Hextall refused to discuss specifics about negotiations with Wayne Simmonds about a long-term contract. "We'd like to sign Simmer. Whether we can or not, I don't have the answer to that." Simmonds has one season remaining on a six-year contract that pays him $3.95 million annually, and Hextall said he would be willing to negotiate into the season. "Simmer's got the character that something like that is not going to affect him, not going to affect the team," the GM said. Simmonds had core muscle surgery after the season ended in April. … Hextall said he was "comfortable" with the internal options for third-line center, mentioning Laughton and Jordan Weal. "I suspect Jordan's going to come in really focused and show us what he did two years ago," Hextall said.