Since drafting James VanRiemsdyk second overall in the 2007 NHL draft, General Manager Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia Flyers have been ultra supportive over the 19-year old power forward’s decision to go, and remain in college for his sophomore season. But days after watching team USA and JVR fumble at the World Junior Championship in person, Holmgren’s vernacular took a sudden turn for the surprisingly critical.
“The environment he’s in now, it might be time for him to move on (from college),” Holmgren said. “We tried to get him to come out last summer, and he thought he was better off going back, and we said, “That’s fine. We’ll support your decision.’ But I still think he would have been better off if he came out last year.”
Holmgren has never been anything but publicly supportive of JVR’s decision to remain at the University of New Hampshire for his sophomore year, and in fact, stated he was happy with James’ decision to hone his game in the NCAA, which he has seem to have done.
After playing second fiddle as a freshman at UNH, VanRiemsdyk has put together a stellar campaign as the Wildcat’s top gun, scoring a team leading nine goals and 17 assists in 17 games. He ranks eighth in the NCAA in points.
VanRiemsdyk also led team USA in scoring in the WJC, with six goals and four assists. The total was the second highest all time for a US player in the tournament, only behind Jeremy Roenick, but ahead of big names like Zach Parise, Brian Rolston, Mike Modano and Doug Weight.
But despite the effort, Holmgren saw something he didn’t like. The statistics were there for JVR, so the distaste by Holmgren may have to do with bad habits formed by playing an amateur style game. VanRiemsdyk is a men amongst boys at the amateur level and the Flyers would not be satisfied if their investment ceased improvement. It may not be a strike against JVR, that he is too talented and his game too advanced for the competition he is currently facing on a nightly basis.
“He’s skilled enough, he skates well enough, he’s a big man, a big young man,” Holmgren said of 6-foot-3, 200 lbs. JVR. “I have no doubt in my mind he’s going to play. But right now he’s in college, so he’s a little ways away.”
Holmgren’s striking words resemble what was said about New York Islanders’ prospect Kyle Okposo, after returning to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore year in the fall of 2007.
Back in Jan. of 2008, Snow said…
“Quite frankly, we weren’t happy with the program there. They have a responsibility to coach, to make Kyle a better player, and they were not doing that. (Okposo) just wasn’t getting better — bottom line. And to me, that’s the frustrating part. We entrusted the coach there to turn him into a better hockey player, and it wasn’t happening.”
Shortly after, the Islanders inked Okposo to a three-year deal, pulling him from college mid-season. But don’t expect the same to happen to JVR. The Flyers would rather see their top prospect playing against NHL caliber talent, but the decision to go pro is ultimately up to the kid. And it doesn’t sound like he’s going to budge.
“I’m just trying to wait until I’m ready,” VanRiemsdyk said. “[The Flyers] have obviously given me their opinions as to what they’ve thought I should do, but I’m kind of going to my support group, which would be my parents, my whole family, and my family advisers to help me make the decisions about hockey. For this past year they obviously recommended that I come back and keep getting better, keep getting stronger.”