VOORHEES, N.J. – The Jersey boy is back in town.
Middletown, N.J. native James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers’ No. 2 overall draft pick in 2007 and a member of the team until 2012, signed with Philadelphia as a free agent on Sunday, inking a five-year deal worth $35 million.
The 6-3, 217-pound left wing spent the last six years playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was traded to the Leafs by the Flyers in 2012 in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn.
It’s a bit of a surprising move. Recently, general manager Ron Hextall said he did not intend to give a long-term contract to a “good’’ player. This sort of contract might contradict that statement.
But Hextall clarified that by stating a four- or five-year deal vs. six or seven was OK with him.
“When you look at our needs, we needed a left winger with size,’’ Hextall said. “He’s obviously got soft hands and goal scoring is a premium, so he’s a good fit for us. Probably the fact he was here before came into his decision. We couldn’t be more excited to have him.’’
In a way, this is a way for van Riemsdyk to take care of some “unfinished business.’’ He only had three seasons in his initial stint in Philadelphia and never had a chance to really endear himself to hockey fans in this area.
“It (the 2012 trade) is certainly an eye-opening experience the first time you go through something like that, getting traded,’’ van Riemsdyk said during a Sunday conference call from his residence in Toronto.
“You’re a little naïve, thinking you’re going to be in one place your whole career and hopefully win championships. There’s a sense of wanting to come back and be part of a group that’s there and hopefully do great things with that.’’
Van Riemsdyk acknowledged he did have offers from a number of other teams but he chose Philadelphia for several reasons.
“First and foremost, I looked at the team that they have,’’ he said in an interview with Rogers’ SportsNet. “The players they have, the guys that they have coming up, too. I’m really excited about that.
“They have some guys (Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier) I’m familiar with from when I played there from my last stint. . .I can’t say enough good things about their organization.’’
Van Riemsdyk could have gone somewhere else.
“There were a few (interested teams) to varying degrees,’’ Van Riemsdyk said. “Probably 10 to 12, somewhere in there.
“There was a sense of comfort (with the Flyers) and what that organization is all about. I remember how badly they want to win and how they’re willing to put resources into that.
“That passion and commitment was a big thing for me.’’
The 29-year-old van Riemsdyk should fill several needs for the Flyers, including the role of a proven scorer.
In 609 NHL games, he has registered 201 goals and 192 assists for 393 points.
In his first stint with the Flyers, JVR played in 196 games with a stat line of 47-52-99.
He says he’s a better player now than he was six years ago.
“I’ve gotten some more experience,’’ he said. “I got the opportunity in Toronto to expand my role. Play the power play, get more minutes. I think I’ve been able to expand my game. I think I’m a cerebral type of player who can skate well. Good offensive instincts, make the smart play in all three zones.’’
He had a good experience the first occasion here.
“They (the Flyers) treated me very well the last time I was there,’’ he said. “I remember even getting a call after I got traded (in 2012) from (late owner) Mr. (Ed) Snider and that meant a lot to me. It showed me what a classy organization they are.’’
He played two years of college hockey at the University of New Hampshire.
The Flyers finished with the worst record in the NHL in the 2006-07 season but lost a ping-pong ball drawing in the lottery and lost a shot at forward Patrick Kane.
JVR did enjoy a couple good seasons here but never made an impact on a top line.
In Toronto, however, he was a key player, reaching the 30-goal mark twice, including 36 last season.
Back in 2014, he represented Canada at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Coming back to Philadelphia, JVR will be closer to home. This should be a comfortable fit and add some depth to the Flyers’ front lines, including the power play.
“You want to be a homer,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “You talk to different guys that had experience playing there and aren’t playing there anymore. Talk to some of the guys who are still there. Just feel them out a bit. Pick their brain about what they’re thinking and go from there.
“It’s definitely intriguing.’’
His family won’t have to travel far to see him play.
“I think my parents are doing backflips right now,’’ said JVR, whose brother, Trevor, plays defense for the Carolina Hurricanes. “They’ve got about a 90-minute drive down here. It’s an exciting day for sure to share this with them.’’
Hextall said he was “in on’’ a free agent center, but didn’t like the term of proposed contract and the player ended up going elsewhere. . .The GM said JVR’s signing doesn’t change anything with the status of Wayne Simmonds, who is going to the final year of his contract. . .Hextall said he wasn’t interested in signing veteran defenseman Brandon Manning, who ended up with the Blackhawks. “He’s a warrior,’’ Hextall said. “I’m happy he signed with Chicago.’’ . . .Also allowed to go to free agency was Valtteri Filppula, who had his moments here but is getting up in age. The Flyers are getting younger and deeper at center.