Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk (21) checks Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov (64) in Edmonton on on October 29, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
TORONTO - With the smallest Toronto roster ripple getting blanket coverage, the injury-enforced move of James van Riemsdyk to centre has drawn plenty of attention in Leaf land.
"I thought someone was going to give me my stats on my practice (faceoff) draws out there," van Riemsdyk said dryly after the morning skate Friday prior to playing the New Jersey Devils.
With Dave Bolland out with a severed tendon suffered in Vancouver last Saturday and Tyler Bozak already sidelined by a hamstring injury, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle has had to juggle his talent down the middle.
Van Riemsdyk has been skating between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the first line in practice as Toronto, which has been off since the weekend game in B.C., prepared to return to action against New Jersey.
Jonathan Bernier is expected to start in goal against the Devils, leaving James Reimer to renew acquaintances with the Bruins in Boston on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old Van Riemsdyk has not played centre since his days at the University of New Hampshire.
"You don't know 'til the game starts," he said when asked how comfortable he felt at centre. "I don't know. We'll see how it goes in the game."
Carlyle was confident van Riemsdyk could do the job.
"We think that JVR can and is quite capable of stepping in and playing down the middle. We'd like him again to prove it to us now. We've talked about it, we've practised it. Now it's where the rubber meets the road here," he said.
Then, like a teacher at the front of the classroom, the Leafs coach turned the question on the reporters.
"If you notice on thing about the best players in the league, what do they do?" Carlyle asked the assembled media.
"What do they do? You guys, come on."
There was a pause before someone offered, somewhat tentatively: "They challenge themselves?"
"That too," said Carlyle. "But they have the puck. They have the puck all the time. The best players have the puck and if you want to be a centre-ice man, you've got the puck. You get the chance to have the puck."
The premise being that JVR, as one of the Leafs' elite forwards, can flourish in the middle.
Van Riemsdyk went into the game with seven goals and six assists, enjoying a profitable partnership with sniper Kessel.
NOTES—Hard-nosed Leafs forward Colton Orr skipped the early skate as part of a "maintenance morning." Carlyle said Orr remains "an option" for the Devils game but said he has been dealing with ongoing health issues since training camp ... New Jersey's Jaromir Jagr went into Friday's game with 1,699 career NHL points (685 goals and 1,014 assists).