Maple Leafs: Kessel-JVR pairing could help Team USA

November 26, 2013 10:32 PM

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Penguins coach Dan Bylsma likes the Leafs pairing of Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, also coach of Team USA for the Winter Olympics, likes what he sees in the pairing of Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk so much so that if one makes the team, so may the other.

That’s because Team USA is going to borrow from what made Canada a success in 2010 — keeping linemates together.

“In 2010 we saw those situations arise for Canada,” said Bylsma. “They had the Anaheim line (Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) line that played together mostly. They had a San Jose line (Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau))

“One or two practices and you’re going to play an Olympic hockey game, o you’ve got to find some kind of continuity somewhere on the ice.”

And that, in Bylsma’s mind, is just what Kessel — who had a minor role on the U.S. squad in 2010 — and van Riemsdyk have with the Maple Leafs this year.

“Phil has added to his game in the last four or five years of his career,” said Bylsma after Penguins practice on Tuesday. “He’s added more detail and added more structure to his game. The guy is possibly one of the fastest skaters in the league, electric speed and his shot, it’s dynamic . . . it’s a real weapon.

“Combine that with his speed, he’s a dangerous player. And I think in terms of the U.S. team you know there are two, three players that have that kind of skill, that kind of mobility to score and to break the game open, and he’s at the top of the list with that.”

Kessel seems a lock for the U.S. team. His 12 goals has him 13th in the NHL and tied for third among American players.

Van Riemsdyk has nine goals but his offensive output has slowed recently while the team struggled with injuries and suspensions to various centres. Kessel and van Riemsdyk are nonetheless projected to be on the American team’s second line with centre Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.

“I think James has distinguished himself a lot this year with his ability to skate, his size, his going to the net, his ability to score and I also think that playing with Kessel is a big thing for him,” said Bylsma. “There’s been some chemistry there and some success there that’s been something we’ve watched this year, and watched him doing what he’s been doing. Not too many more guys like him.”

According to Bylsma, van Riemsdyk’s play has vaulted him ahead of other wingers of his ilk — i.e., big ones who stand in front of the net and can skate, like Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty and Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan.


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