The maturation of van Riemsdyk

The toughest part of James van Riemsdyk’s offseason came at home this summer, long after he watched Patrick Kane — the only player drafted ahead of him in 2007 — skate off with the Stanley Cup after scoring the winning goal in OT.

“I saw it in the newspaper that the assistant coach of the Blackhawks, Mike Havilland, had brought the Cup into town,” recalled the Middletown, N.J., native. “That was kind of tough to take. We can’t expect this year to be like last year. There will be new challenges, so it’s up to us to come together as a team, start off strong and go from there.”

Getting greater production from the 21-year-old wing, who managed just 15 goals and 20 assists his rookie season would certainly help. Van Riemsdyk will probably open at left wing on a line with Claude Giroux and newcomer Nikolay Zherdev.

“I know I need to use my speed and skills to my advantage,” said van Riemsdyk. “But I’m also a big guy, so I have to use my size to win battles in the corners.

Coach Peter Laviolette is counting on that maturation process paying dividends.

“You look for young players to take the next step,” said Laviolette. “To see them make an improvement with their physical presence and their skating.”

If van Riemsdyk can take that next step, then maybe next summer in Middletown he’ll get to be the one showing off the Cup.

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