Philadelphia Flyers' James van Riemsdyk, from left, tries to get a shot past Colorado Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson and Ryan Wilson in the second periodMonday in Philadelphia. Matt Slocum

A friend of mine recently suggested that the worst thing that ever happened to James van Riemsdyk was being compared to John LeClair.

Comparing draft picks to well-known players is natural in any sport, especially when it's the No. 2 overall pick, as Van Riemsdyk was in 2007. Everyone wants an idea of what type of commodity the club has added.

Google "James van Riemsdyk John LeClair," and you'll see the many comparisons, one of which was made by longtime Flyer Simon Gagne, who played with the three-time 50-goal scorer. The parallels are obvious -- both players are 6-foot-3, American and wear orange and black.

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The problem is that the other thing people tend to do with high draft picks is expect them to reach their potential almost immediately. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Chicago's Patrick Kane are just a few examples of high picks who have been superstars as rookies.

The last name on that list, Kane, happens to be the player who was picked just ahead of Van Riemsdyk, and who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Flyers this spring.

That's left many Flyers fans wondering, "When is this Van Riemsdyk kid going to start looking like John LeClair?"

But Van Riemsdyk, 21, didn't score his first goal of the season until Monday night's game-winner against Montreal. He's been a healthy scratch in four of the Flyers' 22 games, and many people have wondered if the Flyers should give up on him soon.

During the Cup finals, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was asked whether bigger players take longer to develop in the NHL -- Van Riemsdyk is a power forward at 6-3, while the 5-10 Kane is flashy and elusive.

Laviolette said that wasn't necessarily it, that some bigger guys have had quicker success and vice versa with smaller players. It's just different with every player, he said.

But just a quick look at Van Riemsdyk is enough to indicate that his body is not entirely filled out yet.

And LeClair himself, when he was 21, was still at the University of Vermont. His first full NHL season, in 1992-93 with the Canadiens, came when he was 23. His first 25-goal season, in 1994-95 with the Flyers, was when he was 25.

So Van Riemsdyk is actually ahead of LeClair's pace by quite a bit. When LeClair was 20, he was a junior in college. When Van Riemsdyk was 20, he had 15 goals for the Flyers last season and scored arguably the biggest one of the playoffs, the momentum-changer in Game 7 against Boston.

Numbers aside, Van Riemsdyk shows plenty of promise. When he gets the puck in the offensive zone, it's very difficult to take it off him. While the Game 7 goal against the Bruins was his only one of the playoffs last season, he started several scoring plays by dominating the puck deep in the zone, even if he didn't end up getting the assist.

He still needs to get stronger and learn to be a force in front of the net. Hopefully he's picking up plenty of pointers from veteran teammate Scott Hartnell, who has scored a sizeable amount of his 161 career goals by setting up in front.

And maybe, as my friend suggested, Van Riemsdyk will never have LeClair's scoring touch but can develop into a solid playmaker anyway.

But Flyers fans should be patient with Van Riemsdyk. He still could turn out to be the next John LeClair.


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