Since making his NHL debut on November 16 at Carolina, Nick Ritchie earned a regular spot in the Anaheim Ducks lineup. Earlier today the club announced they have sent the 19-year old wing back to AHL affiliate San Diego.
Skating alongside Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg on the second line, Ritchie appeared in 11 games with Anaheim, recording his first career NHL point being the primary assist on Silfverberg's goal against the Vancouver Canucks on November 30. He saw his most ice-time in the Black Friday defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, taking 21 shifts and playing 15:24.
While averaging an even 13:00 of ice time during his first extended run of NHL play, Ritchie was asked to and willingly became a physical presence. His 3.5 hits/game are highest of any player to skate with Anaheim this season, which helped the Ducks post 56.52% of the shot attempts while he was on ice during five-on-five play. That shot attempts percentage is highest among Anaheim forwards, with only Simon Despres posting a better percentage in his injury-limited four games this season.
Plus, with the Ducks having such an extended stretch of time off, it only makes sense to give Ritchie more game action at the AHL level.
Analysis and Implications
The reassignment speaks to the status of a couple forwards who have not been a regular part of the lineup recently; Jiri Sekac, who has been out since November 1 with an ankle injury, and Patrick Maroon, who has been a healthy scratch the last three games and appeared in 24 of 28 this season.
Both are positive shot attempts percentage players, with each amongst the five most sheltered forwards with greater than 60% of their zone starts coming in the offensive zone. Sekac has a goal and two assists in 11 games, and has primarily skated with Rickard Rakell (59:30 of his 127:06 even strength time on ice this season) since coming over from Montreal last season. Meanwhile Maroon has a goal and three assists, and appears in the dog house, having seen the majority of his even strength ice time in a third/fourth line role with Mike Santorelli and Chris Stewart.
Once Sekac returns, does Anaheim dare break up the new RPG line that has been so successful with Rakell, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf up top? Of Rakell's seven even strength points this season, he's posted five with Perry and four with Getzlaf on the ice, and has just one goal with Sekac. Does the franchise believe in Rakell so much to slide him back in to a lower line center role and hope to continue his production as well as play-driving ability? Considering how the other centers on the roster have slotted, it may not make sense, especially for a team that needs to have the offensive dynamism that the new RPG line has shown.
With the consistent checking line-style play from Shawn Horcoff between Carl Hagelin and Andrew Cogliano, as well as Nate Thompson slotting as the fourth line center, the roles seem fairly defined for the team. The second line left wing becomes the question. Is Sekac ready for to be the physical presence Ritchie was on the second line, or does Maroon get an opportunity at that role having seen Ritchie succeed in it for eleven games? It would seem ill-advised that just as the team seems to be finding its footing and creeping up the Pacific Division to shake the proverbial etch-a-sketch with the lines.
It was apparent though that while the vaunted scoring hands from the OHL and first several AHL games didn't immediately transition to the NHL, Nick Ritchie is an NHL-caliber player and will be back with the team later this season. It seems the team will need to figure a way to move a roster player to give him that spot, and if Ritchie resumes his production with the Gulls it would be something to watch for in the near future.