by Roger Brown
Portsmouth Herald

The New York Rangers have always been James vanRiemsdyk’s favorite NHL team, but that’s almost certain to change in a matter of hours.

vanRiemsdyk will pledge his allegiance to the team that selects him in the NHL Entry Draft, which begins tonight (7 p.m., VERSUS) in Columbus, Ohio. He’s been projected as an early first-round pick — perhaps even the first pick overall — and the Rangers appear out of reach, since they enter the draft with the 17th selection. The Red Line Report’s mock draft had vanRiemsdyk, a New Jersey native, going to the Philadelphia Flyers with the second pick.
James vanRiemsdyk is expected to be a top pick in the 2007 NHL draft

“My dad was always a Rangers fan, so I went into the city for a lot of games,” vanRiemsdyk said. “My favorite team right now is up in the air. I guess there are 30 possible candidates.”

There’s mounds of local interest in vanRiemsdyk, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound left wing who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the University of New Hampshire and is expected to arrive in Durham this summer.  He was the U.S. National Under-18 Team’s leading scorer last season, when he collected 33 goal and 30 assists in 42 games.

U.S. National Team coach Ron Rolston said vanRiemsdyk’s strengths are his speed, skill level and size. He was third among North American skaters (forwards and defensemen) in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s final rankings.

Here’s the CSS scouting report on vanRiemsdyk: A power forward with great physical presence and ability to protect the puck. ... shows good stick-handling skill. ... is a good skater with great acceleration. ... does not give up on the play and has an impressive work ethic. ... can play in all situations and has a hard shot.

The Chicago Blackhawks have the first pick in this year’s draft, and are expected to select vanRiemsdyk, center Kyle Turris (Burnaby/BCHL) or right wing Patrick Kane (London/OHL). Turris and Kane are first and second, respectively, in the CSS final rankings.

Philadelphia owns the second pick in tonight’s first round, and Phoenix is scheduled to draft third. Norm Lacombe, the 10th pick in the 1983 draft (Buffalo), is the only UNH player — or recruit — who has been selected in the top 10.

“I’ve been told I’ll likely go somewhere in the top three, but you never know come draft day,” vanRiemsdyk said. “Trades could happen — you just never know until you’re on stage wearing that jersey.”

Of course the question UNH fans care about isn’t, “Where will vanRiemskyk play pro hockey?” It’s “When will vanRiemsdyk play pro hockey.” Hardly anyone expects his stay at UNH to last more than two years. Some insist he’ll be at UNH for a year, others have suggested he’ll take the money and not come at all.

“That’s one question that keeps popping up,” vanRiemsdyk said. “I’m dead-set on coming to New Hampshire next year. Right now I can’t see myself in any other place.”

UNH recruits Paul Thompson and Blake Kessel (Phil’s younger brother) are among those who could be taken Saturday, when rounds two through seven are conducted. Thompson, a forward who spent last season with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, is 78th in the CSS rankings. Kessel, a defenseman who played for Waterloo (USHL) last season, is ranked 99th.

VanRiemsdyk said he’s interviewed with 14 NHL teams (including Boston) and those teams delivered the same message: He shouldn’t be playing at UNH — or any other college — next season.

“The teams made it clear to me that they thought Major Junior was the better route,” vanRiemsdyk said. “That’s where they would rather have me play next year because there are more games and it’s supposedly tougher hockey. … I couldn’t be any happier with my choice.”

Roger Brown is a Herald staff writer. He can be reached at
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