Trevor van Riemsdyk, Wednesday March 18th in Rockford
photo courtesy of Rockford IceHogs
By Chris Block
Back-to-back serious injuries have posed a challenge to the bright, young career of Trevor van Riemsdyk.
The 23-year old New Jersey native, affectionately known by Blackhawks fans now as ‘TVR’, had his rookie season derailed after 18 games on November 16 when he blocked a Trevor Daley shot off the side of his left knee in the first period against the Dallas Stars, which was also the night of Brad Richards’ 1,000th game.
“I couldn’t tell at first. I just knew that it hurt,” said van Riemsdyk when asked if he knew the severity of the injury right away. “But I didn’t know how serious it could be. So then I got the x-ray done and that was that.”
Further examinations determined van Riemsdyk had suffered a fractured left patella bone and he underwent surgery four days later. Doctors projected he would need 3-4 months of recovery time. A hundred and seventeen days went by before van Riemsdyk would play in his next game.
This was the second severe injury TVR suffered to his left leg in ten months.
His junior, and final season at New Hampshire was cut short in mid-January of 2014 when he broke his left ankle in a game against Union College. The injury ended van Riemsdyk collegiate playing career as he signed with the Blackhawks upon the conclusion of UNH’s season. He spent some time with the Rockford IceHogs in April until the time their season ended, but he never came close to playing in a game.
TVR said he couldn’t compare or say which injury was worse.
“It’s hard to say, they were both different,” he replied after playing this past Sunday in his second game for Rockford. “Both had different things to get through. I don’t know which one was worse necessarily. But, yeah, they both weren’t very fun.
The rookie blueliner, who rated #6 in our January 2015 Blackhawks Prospect Rankings made his return to game action last Saturday night in Grand Rapids, almost four months to the day of the night of the injury at United Center against Dallas, and fourteen months since the shattered ankle that ended his college career.
TVR played 13:30 minutes in a 3-1 loss to Grand Rapids. The IceHogs dressed seven defenseman. He wasn’t initially in the grouping of six, but he did skate a regular 5-on-5 shift alongside Stephen Johns for most of the night.
After playing his second game on Sunday, van Riemsdyk said he felt good and was optimistic about his chances for a return to the Blackhawks this season.
“It’s getting there,” TVR said after the IceHogs’ 4-3 win over the Chicago Wolves on Sunday. “It’s getting pretty close. Obviously I just got to shake off some rust. I think it’s getting pretty close. It’s still the same game. You just got to trust your instincts, and that will all be there. So, it’s just trust in those (instincts) and just not hesitating. It’s been a little while, obviously, it’s gonna be slow in a couple areas, but overall I felt pretty good.”
TVR played the left side with Johns at his customary right point (both are righty shots), which is notable because van Riemsdyk spent a lot of his time with the Blackhawks in October and November skating the left side with Michal Rozsival. Rockford IceHogs head coach Ted Dent was quick to point out that he had 5 right-handed shots in the lineup Saturday, and that it was natural to position TVR on the left since he had experience there.
However, with six defensemen dressed on Sunday (Johns missed Sunday and the following game Wednesday due to a hand injury suffered at Grand Rapids) in Rosemont and TVR paired with Kirill Gotovets, an AHL contracted player and lefty shot whose customary spot is on the left, TVR also played some on the left side. Gotovets (who is the Cornell grad the Hawks got in return for trading Philippe Paradis to Tampa Bay a couple years ago) and TVR flipped sides several times during the game. That could be seen as a sign that the Blackhawks wanted to see van Riemsdyk on the left side perhaps because that’s where they see him best fitting in Chicago.
Ted Dent was complimentary of TVR’s first two games.
“I thought he was fine,” Dent said in his post-game media scrum on Sunday. “To be honest with you, he’s never played here. So, we don’t know completely what his game is like anyway. So, it’s all new territory for us. But I thought he handled himself good.”
TVR doesn’t mind playing either side. He sees the positives in his versatility.
“Yeah, it’s just being able to do whatever they need. Anytime you can do multiple things and offer different things at the table it just makes it that much easier for the team to have a use for you.”
It’s worth mentioning that Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen was on hand Sunday to watch van Riemsdyk’s second game back. While the Blackhawks’ hockey operations staff typically has a large presence for IceHogs games at Allstate Arena, it’s rare that a member of the coaching staff makes an appearance. When there is, it’s usually because Joel Quenneville wants one of his guys who he trusts to give him their first-hand opinion.
This will lead to speculation as to how long it could be before TVR returns to the Blackhawks’ blue line. That’s difficult to say. TVR looked slow and understandably tentative in both games last weekend. He didn’t look any different in the IceHogs 4-3 shootout win on Wednesday.
When he spoke to the media on Monday, Quenneville was also more cautious than in previous briefings about laying expectations for TVR’s potential return.
“(We’ll) keep him playing and see how it goes,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers on Monday, the day after TVR’s second game.
In watching van Riemsdyk’s first three games back this week, it would be difficult for him to step back into the NHL right now. Perhaps in another couple of weeks if we see a dramatic improvement in his quickness and mobility, but right now its not there. TVR has been slow and isn’t moving particularly well so far. His stickwork, passing and sense in terms of how he handles the puck and pressure is carrying him currently. Those are his greatest assets anyhow, but he’ll have to be able to move more swiftly against an NHL playoff forecheck.
To put TVR in the fire of the March or April National Hockey League pace at this point would be a big risk. Perhaps that is what Dineen (and maybe others) have reported back to Quenneville and Stan Bowman this week, because the temperature in regards to TVR’s potential return to the NHL lineup has certainly cooled in the past six days.
He handled himself quite well over the first month and a half of the season. But October and November is different than April, May and June in the NHL.
When asked after Sunday’s game, van Riemsdyk didn’t have any clear indication of what the Hawks plans are for him.
“Yeah, I think they’ve left that door open for me, kind of put it on myself to get to that level that I was playing at. And if I can get there, maybe that’s an option that they’ll use.”
In an interview on the Blackhawks team web site this week, team Vice President of Hockey Operations, Al MacIsaac, in response to a question about TVR’s progress, said it was question of “If” the Blackhawks decided to recall van Riemsdyk this season, not necessarily ‘when.’
The belief is the Hawks feel they have a good young player on their hands who could potentially be a top four defenseman for them and there’s no sense in risking a third catastrophic injury in less than a year and a half by asking TVR to jump into the NHL playoffs at anything less than what would be considered his 100 percent.
The comparison made to me was Kris Versteeg, who had a different knee injury but it took him essentially a full year to get back to his comfortable, peak form. The belief is van Riemsdyk is less experienced, not a great skater to begin with and coming off back-to-back severe injuries to the same leg. They do value the player and feel at full strength TVR could be a contributor in this postseason, but the question is – can he get to full strength and be called upon this year?
Van Riemsdyk has moved in with IceHogs forward Dennis Rasmussen in Rockford, who had previously lived with Klas Dahlbeck up until the time Dahlbeck was traded to Arizona.
Sunday, after two games, TVR indicated he was not feeling any pain in his left knee despite playing a back-to-back in his return.
“No, no pain. A little stiff, a little weaker at the moment. Nothing too drastic anymore, I’m working to get that (strength) back. It’s pretty much getting there, so it should be good.”
There’s definitely a concern when it comes to TVR suffering two severe injuries to the same leg over a stretch of ten months. He wasn’t the greatest skater to begin with and now he has two major surgeries on his left leg.
Remember, this is an organization whose outward public (at least) mantra in regards to prospects is ‘patience.’ So, it’ll be interesting to see if they exercise that in this case or if they panic and risk ruining their best undrafted college free agent signing in years.
The Middletown, New Jersey boy admits this has been a tough process so far.
“It’s definitely tough to go through and injury but I’ve had a little bit of an experience before. I have a great support staff, whether it’d be the people with the Blackhawks or just my family, they’ve been really good. So, it’s made coming back a little easier.”
Mentally, van Riemsdyk says the past four months weren’t easy to deal with, but the jovial youngster is ready to get back and return to his early season form.
“Yeah, it was tough,” he said. “It was definitely, when you get that news in the locker room after you do some x-rays. It was definitely not fun. It was a good start. Things were going pretty well. I thought I was playing pretty well. I seemed to be getting pretty positive feedback from the coaches. So, yeah, it wasn’t fun to deal with that, but that happens. I play a sport with injuries that are definitely a part it. So, it’s something you’ve got to deal with and come back stronger.”
And once he does regain that strength and sharpness, he hopes he can make a contribution to the Blackhawks again this season.
“Yeah, that’s always the goal – to get back to playing your best. And hopefully that means I’ll be playing back up there. But I just have to take care of stuff on my end, just play my best, get back to playing good, feeling normal and go from there.”
When that will be, we’ll just have to keep watching and see.