VOORHEES, N.J. — When asked his opinion of the sudden transformation in James van Riemsdyk in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube smiled before divulging the secret.
"He's got that edge," Berube told NHL.com.
Is there any doubt van Riemsdyk is playing with renewed vigor these days -- almost as if he feels the time is now to prove to the entire organization that choosing him with the No. 2 pick four years ago is about ready to pay off in a big way.
"He's skating and he's physical," Berube said. "When he played college (at the University of New Hampshire), a guy like that can get away with not being physical and still have success. He's big, fast, and has a great shot but when you get to the pros, you're up against men. You still need to be physical up here and it takes time to learn that."
Apparently, van Riemsdyk has learned his lessons well.
"I just want to have a strong playoff," van Riemsdyk said. "I know this is the time of the year when you really have to show up and play. This is where you really have to do your job every game and be consistent, and that's something I really wanted to do. I think I was pretty consistent throughout the season, but I wanted to make sure I took my game to the next level."
Truth is, van Riemsdyk has already scored as many goals in six playoff games this year (3) as he did in 21 during the 2010 postseason. He has also doled out 13 hits, taken a team-high 38 shots and averaged 19:03 of ice time. Last spring, he finished with 21 hits and earned over seven fewer minutes (11:54) of ice time in 15 more games.
"Last year, he would never probably say anything when he returned to the bench since he was probably worried about his own game or what was going on with himself," Berube said. "But now it's about the team; the other players on the other team, too. He's fired up at them.
"Any time you're playing well, you're going to get on the bad side of the other players. That just goes to show you he's playing well and the other team knows that, so they're trying to get him off his game as much as they can."
There's no question that having one year of postseason experience under his belt played a huge role in helping "JVR" remain focused entering this year's tournament.
"I learned the way you have to play in the playoffs … take care of the little details by being physical, being hard to play against, and really just being competitive out there," van Riemsdyk said. "Those are the three biggest things I learned about playing in the playoffs from last year."
While he did finish the season with new career highs in points (40), goals (21) and plus-minus rating (plus-15), even the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Middletown, N.J., native admits to feeling a tad snake-bitten during the regular season.
"He's arguably been our most consistent forward and with a couple breaks here and there, he could be leading the League in playoff scoring right now," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "The fight in him to overcome the bad breaks that he's had, the almost-goals during the season, to scoring the big ones now for us when it matters most has been great for us."
Coach Peter Laviolette actually compared van Riemsdyk's postseason success to that of Claude Giroux's during Philadelphia's run last season. In only his second playoff season, Giroux finished third on the team with 21 points, including 10 goals, in 23 playoff games. Now in his second playoff year, van Riemsdyk is giving Laviolette flashbacks.
"There's no question James has taken it to the next level from what he did in the regular season and it's similar to what Claude did last year," Laviolette said. "I think you forget sometimes how young these kids are. James is a young kid (21) playing in a man's game and that's not an easy thing to do. It takes time to figure it out and get that confidence to learn the game and to continue to work at your game and develop physically and mentally. Eventually, you hope you start seeing those giant strides and James has taken them right now."
It also helps to be more comfortable in your assignments and to have linemates capable of making big plays in Giroux and Nikolay Zherdev.
"Being comfortable on the ice goes along with that confidence and those things just keep building and building," van Riemsdyk said. "You just have to know shift in and shift out what you have to do when you're out there in order to be successful. I think those are the things I try and focus on, and when I'm doing that, that's when I'm successful."
Giroux, who leads the Flyers in assists (6) and points (7) in the postseason, is grateful to be playing on a line with JVR this spring.
"He's been playing great for us lately," Giroux said. "I'm pretty happy I get to play with him. Hopefully, we can get good chemistry going. He's got a good shot and I'm trying to give it to him. He had the experience of last year and he realized that you can't be too excited, you have to go out there and play hockey. It's just a game at the end of the day. If you get too excited, sometimes you play bad or you get too nervous. You've got to go out here, relax and play good hockey."
It's a formula van Riemsdyk has seemingly discovered this postseason.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale