The loss of Tyler Bertuzzi stung in the offseason. The veteran wing proved to be a good fit with the Boston Bruins after he was acquired just before the 2023 NHL trade deadline in March.
Bertuzzi tallied 16 points in 21 regular season games and was arguably the Bruins' best forward in their first-round playoff loss to the Florida Panthers, when he tied for the team lead with 10 points in seven games.
Bertuzzi found more money in free agency with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He signed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million.
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The Bruins dove into the free agent market and signed several veteran forwards for cheap. One of them, James van Riemsdyk, had the potential to bring some of the same skills that Bertuzzi displayed during his short stint in Boston.
And through two games of the 2023-24 campaign, van Riemsdyk has done just that.
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One of those skills is causing havoc and scoring in front of the net. Bertuzzi is a tenacious, feisty player who doesn't shy away from the physicality required to gain prime real estate around the crease. JVR, at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, fights hard for inside ice, and he made his presence felt there in the Bruins' 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.
Van Riemsdyk scored the game winner from the low slot by tipping a shot past Predators goalie Juuse Saros early in the third period to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
“(JVR) allows you to make a lot more plays low just because of his ability to tip pucks. Everybody sees -- that second goal was incredible," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters after the win. "But the plays that we go down low, he has the poise, he makes really good decisions and they have to be split-second decisions.”
Van Riemsdyk also scored on the power play in the first period, and that's another facet of the game where he can make a difference like Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi got plenty of power-play ice time with the Bruins, and JVR is likely to get plenty, too.
Van Riemsdyk has scored 89 power-play goals since entering the league in 2009-10.
“That’s a big part of my role and my job here is to be effective there,” van Riemdsyk told reporters postgame Saturday night when asked about his power-play tallies. “There’s some great players that I'm on the ice with there, so that makes it a lot of fun. Those guys make a ton of great plays and it’s my job to be around the net and capitalize when it's my time to do that. It’s great to be out there with guys that can snap the puck around like those guys.”
Pastrnak appreciates what van Riemsdyk brings to the power play as well.
“He’s known for outstanding net front,” Pastrnak told reporters. “His whole career, he’s scored a lot of goals on the PP. I remember him from Philly around the net. He’s great here, he makes really good plays in tight for how tall he is and how big of a stick he has. He's very good at the little plays around the net. I'm happy he got on the board and, overall, the power play got on the board.”
Van Riemsdyk had a bit of a down year in 2022-23, tallying just 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 61 games. In fairness, he played on an awful Flyers team that finished with the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. Just two seasons ago he scored 24 goals, and in his second stint with the Flyers (2018-19 through 2022-23) he averaged 19.8 goals over five seasons.
Van Riemsdyk hitting the 20-goal mark would be huge for the Bruins because they don't have much offensive firepower at left wing behind Brad Marchand. If JVR gives them a consistent generator of offense in that spot, that's one less roster weakness general manager Don Sweeney will have to address at the trade deadline. He's also earning just $1 million this season, and for a Bruins team that's very close to the salary cap, getting great production out of a player making so little money would be massively valuable.
Van Riemsdyk isn't as good as Bertuzzi. It's wasn't a surprise that Bertuzzi was coveted in the offseason and signed a lucrative one-year deal. But there's no doubt van Riemsdyk can give the Bruins some of the same elements Bertuzzi did, most notably a strong presence in front of the net, offensive production at left wing and power-play scoring.