VOORHEES, N.J. – On his first tour of duty with the Flyers, James van Riemsdyk was a raw, 19-year-old kid hitting the big city for the first time.
The pressure, the expectations of being a No. 2 overall draft pick were crushing.
He never really found his niche here and after three NHL seasons was dispatched to Toronto for a journeyman defenseman.
Six years came and went and the Middletown, N.J. native did a lot of growing up.
Earlier this month, he returned to Philadelphia where it all began, this time by free agency.
Coming off a career-best 36-goal season with the Maple Leafs, van Riemsdyk looks much more relaxed and confident as he begins the first year of a five-year, $35-million contract.
At a Wednesday press conference to formally introduce him to the media, van Riemsdyk sounded much more mature and self-assured than the 2008 version.
“I think the more experience you have with this sort of stuff (like answering a lot of questions), and the day-to-day of what your life is like, you figure out how to stay pretty even-keeled for everything,’’ JVR said at the Skate Zone.
“Over the course of a long season, there are going to be some high points and some low points. You have to keep picking yourself up when things aren’t going your way, approach each day with the same mentality and usually you dig yourself out of it.’’
The Flyers were aggressive in their approach to landing van Riemsdyk, who was slotted behind only ex-Islander (and current Maple Leaf) John Tavares on the list of UFAs.
General manager Ron Hextall needed another proven scorer, especially one on the left side.
Hextall wouldn’t commit to calling van Riemsdyk an automatic first-liner (alongside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier), but did say he will be a “top six’’ forward.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have a top goal-scorer back in the organization,’’ Hextall said.
Van Riemsdyk was just a youngster a decade ago when he shared a locker room with Giroux, Couturier, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek. JVR looks forward to the reunion.
As for what line he might play, van Riemsdyk shrugged and left the door open for multiple possibilities.
“I’m sure we’ll go through many things in training camp,’’ he said. “We’ll find out what works best. There are a lot of different things that can be tried.’’
The six years in Toronto, which featured an appearance in the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, taught him plenty of do’s and don’ts.
“You figure out more as the years go on,’’ he said. “What works and what doesn’t work. . .being more consistent.
“The game seems to get faster and faster every year. Not only the skating but the decision making. I think the game is conducive to guys who are skilled and smart and that’s what I consider myself.’’
The game seems to have gotten a bit younger and van Riemsdyk, now 29, is almost considered a wily veteran.
“I remember walking in here my first training camp and there were guys like Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Ian Laperriere,’’ he said.
According to van Riemsdyk, he had somewhere between 10 and 12 offers but decided to return to the Flyers, not only because it was familiar turf but also because of the organization’s commitment to winning.
“The first thing I noticed about the Flyers ever since I was drafted was that they will do whatever it takes to win,’’ he said. “They have every resource you could possibly want to hopefully find an edge. That’s kind of the way it’s been here forever so you want to be in a situation like that where every year, no matter what, we’re going to find a way to win.’’