Back in March when the Blackhawks announced the signing of college defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, many people didn't pay much attention. The Playoffs were around the corner, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were injured, Patrick Sharp was wrapping up a 34-goal season - suffice it to say there were other things on our minds.
I remember thinking that it was cool that we got James van Riemsdyk's brother, but it didn't seem like anything other than another one of Stan Bowman's college free agent signings that probably wouldn't pan out (see: Drew LeBlanc). The Blackhawks had and still have a lot of depth in Rockford, so it seemed like TVR would take a back seat to those guys and be a career AHL defenseman - at least in my opinion.
However, 15 games into this season, and we see why Stan Bowman signed him, and moreover why Joel Quenneville kept him in the NHL out of camp. van Riemsdyk has been anything but a disappointment to this point in the season, and I would argue that is one of the very bright spots from a not-so-hot start for the Blackhawks.
Starting with the "eye test," it's been difficult to not like TVR and his play. There have been some "growing pains" that come with any player's first taste of NHL play, but van Riemsdyk has mostly been very solid in terms of his gameplay. He has been responsible defensively while also contributing to the offensive play well. He has stopped a couple of odd-man rushes defensively, and has made some very creative, skilled plays in the offensive zone and on the rush himself.
The production stats don't exactly reflect his hot start, as he only has 1 point, an assist on the opening goal from Sunday's game against San Jose (the goal was originally credited to him, but it has since been given to Kris Versteeg). However, his advanced statistics are great, as he has posted a 60.70 CF% at 5v5 (all situations) and a 59.91 at 5v5 close, for a Corsi Rel% of 5,75 at 5v5 close.
One knock is that he's been quite sheltered, as he has started 66.39% of his 5v5 shifts in the offensive zone, and has a 26.95% QOC, which is 5th out of the 7 defenseman on the team, and almost 2 whole points below Brent Seabrook, who is 4th. This is understandable considering that he is a rookie, and while there's probably no rush, you might like to see him given some time in more high-pressure situations in order to help him grow.
Another "eye test" that has been extremely impressive is the fact that Coach Q has been using him as the "anchor" of the third pair, as he has played in all 15 games, and has often been paired with David Rundblad and Michal Rozsival. It speaks volumes that Q would trust a rookie defenseman to be the main guy on a defensive pair, even if it is the third pair. It's also impressive because TVR has been playing with another righty, and has been the side that is typically played by lefties. This is something that Niklas Hjalmarsson has been praised for in past years while playing with Johnny Oduya (but opposite side), so it shouldn't be ignored.
He also got a shot on the top pair with Duncan Keith against the Sharks on Sunday, even though that might've been due to punishment to Seabrook for his bad play against Washington. He looked good given the extra ice time and increased QOC, and even earned his first career point.
Time will come to tell if van Riemsdyk is just having a good start, or if this successful play is something that we will continue to see. Hopefully it is the latter, and he is able to continue to develop his game this year and beyond. But for now, let's not focus too much on how he will develop, and instead enjoy the fact that he is playing well.
(Statistics via War-on-Ice)