The Toronto Maple Leafs are benefiting from a career year by James van Riemsdyk, as the talented forward has quickly emerged as the team’s second-best forward.
The 6-foot-3 left winger has developed an impressive chemistry on Toronto’s top-line with fellow American Phil Kessel, and as a result, he’s on pace to shatter his previous career-high for points in a season. In 75 games during the 2010-11 season, van Riemsdyk recorded a career-high 40 points while in 30 games this season, he’s already accumulated 25 points. However, despite having the best start to a season in his career, van Riemsdyk still has room for improvement.
Although it’s difficult to criticize somebody playing the best hockey of their five-year career, van Riemsdyk has developed a trend of being too unselfish with the puck. The chemistry he’s formed with Kessel has quite possibly earned him a spot on Team USA’s Olympic roster, however, it’s also potentially preventing him from recording more points on the scoreboard.
In at least three different moments in Toronto’s 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, van Riemsdyk chose to pass the puck instead of shoot it on net, despite being close enough for his own scoring opportunity. Maple Leaf fans have gotten used to the sight of seeing van Riemsdyk and Kessel on a two-on-one rush with van Riemsdyk often passing the puck to his teammate instead of shooting himself. No one could blame van Riemsdyk for wanting to pass, considering Kessel is one of the game’s elite scorers. However, it’s gotten to the point where van Riemsdyk is now trying to force a pass when there’s no passing lane instead of shoot himself.
There were two odd-man rushes featuring van Riemsdyk and Kessel against the Kings where van Riemsdyk had a great opportunity to shoot himself, but instead chose to pass to Kessel only for the team to lose possession of the puck. There was another chance in the second period where van Riemsdyk was just outside the crease and attempted to pass to David Clarkson instead of fire the puck on net, and once again, Toronto lost possession and the Kings were headed the other direction.
There’s certainly no guarantee van Riemsdyk would have scored in any of those scenarios, but considering he has 13 goals on the year, a shot on net would have been a lot better than losing possession of the puck with no shot attempt. When it’s factored in, the game was either tied or Toronto was down by a goal during all three scenarios, the game would have been dramatically altered had van Riemsdyk shot and scored rather than forced a pass to a teammate.
It’s not like van Riemsdyk is a known playmaker such as Nicklas Backstrom or Jason Spezza, players who are known more for their passing than scoring ability. The Maple Leaf forward can send the puck to the top-shelf better than the majority of the players in the league, which is why he’s a former second-overall draft pick.
For this reason, van Riemsdyk needs to become more selfish and shoot the puck himself instead of always looking to pass. It’s great that he wants to feed his teammates the puck, but lately, it’s been costing the Maple Leafs legitimate scoring opportunities. Given the recent struggles Toronto has endured, the last thing they can afford is to lose out on scoring chances without even a shot on net.