Washington Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk didn’t see a lot of action through 2020-21. However, he’s still a bright spot on the team’s blue line and could make a strong case for ice time this season.
Peter Laviolette liked what he saw from the defensive pairings he went with early in the year, so they remained a constant. Besides, as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As a result, blueliners like TvR waited for their chance, but only drew in amid injuries and rare lineup shuffles.
Heading into next season, the blue line remains a mystery. Zdeno Chara will become a UFA and there’s the possibility that the Kraken could go for one of Washington’s top defensemen in the expansion draft. Besides, the team can only protect three if they go with the 7-3-1 option, and John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov should be two of those. That leaves regularly-dressed RHD Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen and LHD Brenden Dillon vying for that final spot.
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Through just 20 regular season games, the 29-year-old registered a goal, two helpers and a plus-minus rating of -1. He also registered 19 shots, 12 hits and 20 blocks. He also gave up the puck just seven times, the least among Caps defensemen with at least 20 GP.
Still, it’s the advanced statistics, as well as watching his actual play, that tells a deeper story. His CF% of 52.1 ranked second among all Capitals d-men, trailing only Orlov. This means that with van Riemsdyk on the ice, Washington controlled the puck more often than not. He also moved the puck well up ice and generated several high-danger chances. He ended the regular season leading all Caps blueliners with a HDGF% of 58.33.
Van Riemsdyk also meshed well with his defensive partners and made those around him better. We could see that when he was paired with Dillon. In over 200 minutes playing alongside Dillon, he recorded a CF% of 53.51 and GF% of 53.33, the third-best among Washington’s pairings with at least 200 minutes played together. Without TvR, Dillon’s CF% dropped to 49.44, and his expected goals against jumped significantly, per Natural Stat Trick. That being said, he can make those around him better.
In his own end, TvR played a solid game, especially shorthanded. Not only that, at even strength, his 9.31 expected goals-against was the lowest among his fellow blueliners (at least 20 GP). Sure, 20 games is not a big sample size, but it’s still a decent amount of ice time. He averaged just over 17 minutes a night and can be an asset at even strength and on special teams.
Van Riemsdyk also played a somewhat fearless game where he was unafraid to engage in 1-on-1 battles and protect the crease. He showcased good positioning, followed the play well and even threw his weight around from time to time. TvR also knows how to take good care of the puck.
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Off the ice, his drive and work ethic makes him an incredibly coachable player. He’s also adjusted well to Laviolette’s systems, and has taken the time to learn from his teammates.
“He’s such a pro. Every day he comes in and makes sure he’s ready to go,” Schultz said of TvR in April. “You can see the way he stepped in [and] didn’t miss a beat. He’s been playing unbelievable for us.”
Right now, the Capitals blueline — with Fehervary and Justin Schultz (my choice for the last protected d-man considering his strong showing last season) on the roster — could look like this.
Dillon*/Kempny (if healthy) -Schultz
(* – Potential Kraken selections)
Jensen impressed last season and adapted well to Washington backend getting more involved offensively. If I had to choose a defenseman for the Kraken, it’d be Dillon who goes. However, Jensen would be a good choice for building depth not he right side. That’s just one way TvR could become a regular. However, if Dillon goes, van Riemsdyk splitting time with Jensen could give Laviolette a major advantage.
Fatigue and injuries come playoffs, as we learned last season, is a very real situation. In fact, injuries could be among the reasons Washington saw another early exit. With a healthy lineup and depth throughout the d-corps, it’s possible Washington could make much bigger strides.