PUBLICLY, ANYWAY, Peter Laviolette usually speaks with a lacquered hardness, cool and dismissive and protective.

Yesterday, unbidden, he warmed to his subject. Laviolette was asked about the maturation of Flyers scorer Claude Giroux . . . and he quickly projected that just such an accelerated performance curve could happen again, a year later, for James van Riemsdyk.

"JVR is a prime example of that - you hope that he keeps going the same way," said Laviolette, who has guided both the past two seasons.

When the Flyers sneaked into the 2010 playoffs, Giroux, the 22nd overall pick in the 2006 draft, was a promising second-year player who performed well late in the season but who needed to contribute mightily if the Flyers were to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Giroux finished the season with 16 goals and 31 assists but exploded for 10 goals and 11 assists as the Flyers went to the finals.

Van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in 2007, has 21 goals (five in the last nine games) and 19 assists as the Flyers prepare to host the Sabres on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Laviolette is eager to see where van Riemsdyk goes from here.

So is the 21-year-old van Riemsdyk.

A hulking 6-3 and at least 205 pounds, van Riemsdyk lacks Giroux's magical hands, slippery speed and uncanny sense of where his teammates are. But van Riemsdyk has a heavy, accurate shot, and big guys don't shrink - especially ones who can move like JVR.

"For me, it's always been about skating. Especially in the playoffs, presenting a physical presence," van Riemsdyk said. "You can wear guys down not on the back end, and they know they're going to get hit every time they get the puck down there."

Laviolette, who witnessed a lack of hard-working hockey the past 2 months, welcomes any commitment to forechecking, especially one coming from van Riemsdyk. Laviolette was compelled to bench him 13 games into the season; van Riemsdyk had yet to score a goal.

He emerged from that refocused. His style of play often turned imposing.

This time last year van Riemsdyk was every bit the pliable, callow rookie. This year, his body harder and his jaw squarer, he is a professional.