For James van Riemsdyk, a return to New England was a no-brainer.
The veteran left winger, a former star at the University of New Hampshire, was one of the Bruins’ first signees in the moments after the free agency window opened July 1.
Often a thorn in the Bruins’ side during his stints with the Flyers and Maple Leafs, van Riemsdyk always thought he’d be a good fit in a Black and Gold sweater. General manager Don Sweeney and coach Jim Montgomery agreed, and the sides struck a one-year, $1 million deal.
Van Riemsdyk recently shed light on his decision to come to Boston — a city he knows well — and his excitement for the upcoming season.
“It was a combination of going to a team that you thought has a good chance to win and then being in a place where you think what you bring to the table can kind of fit in with what they currently have,” van Riemsdyk said from his summer spot in Minnesota.
“So, after talking with Monty and Sweens and how they see me fitting in, I was excited. So it made it a fairly easy decision, to be honest.”
Boston is familiar turf for van Riemsdyk, dating to his youth hockey days and continuing through his Hockey East experiences and NHL career.
“Growing up in New Jersey and playing hockey all over the East Coast, obviously we made tons of trips to Massachusetts and particularly Boston for different tournaments growing up,” he said. “I’ve met a ton of guys and it’s definitely a part of the country I’m super fond of because of those experiences and relationships.”
At 6 feet 3 inches and 208 pounds, van Riemsdyk is a big body who can plant himself in and around the crease and absorb punishment without giving up his position.
Van Riemsdyk has nifty hands and specializes in collecting loose change near the net and cashing it in. That skill could land him on one of the Bruins’ top power-play units.
“His experience on the power play will be a big help,” said former UNH coach Dick Umile, who called van Riemsdyk a “special” player. “On the power play, there’s probably no one better at the net front than he is. He’s made a living on the power play.”
Van Riemsdyk is eager to win over fans at the Garden after being the object of their ire for so many years.
“Over the years, playing against the Bruins has always been kind of like a measuring-stick game,” he said. “Obviously since I’ve been in the league, they’ve always been a contender. They’ve been right there every year making some strong playoff runs, so definitely excited to be on this side of it.
“But again, I think ultimately coming into any new place, you just want to try to be true to yourself as a player and a person to try to fit in the best you can with the group that’s currently there. So, obviously I’m being brought in to play a certain role and definitely excited for the opportunity to do that.”
Van Riemsdyk’s numbers were down last season in Philadelphia as he collected 12 goals and 29 points. Part of that can be attributed to injury, as he missed 21 games after suffering a broken finger.
If van Riemsdyk can stay healthy, he’ll be on track to crack the 1,000-career-game milestone. Since being drafted second overall in 2007 — his good buddy Patrick Kane went No. 1 — van Riemsdyk has played in 940 games with 300 goals and 591 points.
Known for his offense early in his career, van Riemsdyk has become more of a 200-foot player in recent seasons. That emphasis on being accountable in all three zones should translate into plenty of playing time in the Bruins system.
Despite the many changes to the Bruins roster since their shocking first-round dismissal, van Riemsdyk is confident there are still plenty of pieces in place to build on.
“Joining a team that had as much success as they have, particularly last year, is super exciting,” he said. “Obviously everyone would like to have some playoff success and things like that. It’s such a fine line for having things go your way. But there’s lots of great players there and to get a chance to play with them, I’m super excited about it.”