Ask a random sampling of Ducks fans what they think about Nick Ritchie and you’ll likely get a variety of opinions. Reactions to the 2014 10th overall pick range from, “he’s been a total letdown” to “he’ll never be more than a 3rd or 4th line goon” to “I thought he played for the Stars”. (Editor’s note: I have another description of him - DK)
While it is true that Ritchie hasn’t exploded onto the scene in the same way as other recent high draft picks, anyone betting against the 21 year old may want to stop for a minute. It may be time to look at what he’s done so far and what he is likely projected to develop into.
Ritchie was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft from the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. The Ducks acquired the pick in the Bobby Ryan trade with the Ottawa Senators that also included Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen.
Ritchie put up 32 points (14G, 18A) in 25 games before being traded from the Petes to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2015, where he proceeded to put up an additional 30 points (15G, 15A) in 23 games.
Then Ritchie went absolutely bonkers and started driving the hype machine. In the 2015 Memorial Cup playoffs, he put up a staggering 26 points (13G, 13A) in 14 games. The kid couldn’t stop scoring.
In his first year in San Diego, Ritchie put up an impressive 30 points (16G, 14A) in 38 games before earning a call-up with the Ducks late in the season. Not bad for a 20 year old playing professionally for the first time.
In his early taste of NHL action, Ritchie struggled, finding out the hard way that the pace of play disparity between the NHL and the lower levels of hockey is massive. He put up 4 points (2G, 2A) in 33 games before improving to 28 points (14G, 14A) in the most recent season. He finally appeared to at least keep up with the tempo of NHL play.
It is important to note that this season, Ritchie spent the vast majority of his ice time with Antoine Vermette as his center at 472 minutes of ice time together as well as a struggling (and possibly injured) Corey Perry on the other wing. The two had a 50.5 CF% and a 48.4 GF% on the ice together. Granted, he also spent 307 minutes with Ryan Getzlaf. With Getzlaf, he and the captain posted a 53.1 CF% and a 52.2 GF%. Accounting for the minutes discrepancy, it does not appear as though Ritchie was given a huge advantage with his linemates.
The Ducks organization views Ritchie as a quintessential power forward — one that is capable of playing a mean, physical game with the ability to bully the opposing defenders in front of the net with his 6’2”, 232 lb. man-child frame. He’s been vaunted for years for effectively using his size to create space to work. Ritchie’s most prized tool, however, is his ridiculous wrist shot that carries a surprising amount of accuracy for such a young player.
Here’s an example of that shot:
As you can see, his ability to get rid of the puck and hit his spots is not something that needs to be worked on much, if at all.
Ritchie has 2 significant faults that are holding him back, however.
The first is obvious to anyone who watched Ritchie in this year’s playoffs: discipline. He has always played a very hard game and is not afraid to drop the gloves. Higher PIM totals are going to be a natural part of his game—probably for the rest of his career. However, it is the types of penalties and the timing of them that is a hindrance. Ritchie took several ill-timed penalties at multiple points this season that ultimately led to goals for the other team, often times when the Ducks were trailing or tied.
He also has had some reckless hits like the one he laid on Viktor Arvidsson in the Western Conference Finals that got him ejected from the game early on.
Ultimately, this is a correctable problem. Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are arguably the masters of toeing the line of reckless play and limiting penalties to times that are not critical in the grand scheme of things. Generally, when the team needs them, Perry and Kesler will be on the ice and not in the penalty box. With better in-the-moment coaching and awareness, Ritchie can model his pestiness after his teammates.
The second fault is his positioning. No, not his speed, his positioning. Is Ritchie the fastest player in the league? Of course not. I may be colorblind, but I’m not speedblind.
The thing is, Ritchie does not have to be a fast player. For two reasons:
- He plays on a slow, grinding, Randy Carlyle-coached Ducks team that is finding success in today’s speedier NHL. The Ducks system is the perfect setup for a player like Ritchie to succeed.
- He’s a power forward. That type of player makes his living by barreling to the front of the net, creating absolute havoc down low, and having the hands to clean up any garbage. See one Corey Perry, arguably the worst skater on the team.
Right now, Ritchie tends to go for the big hits and is often the first forechecker in on the play. As such, he usually hangs around the boards and in areas that are not ordinarily considered to be high-danger shot areas. Hence why many of his NHL goals have come from near the top or outside of the circles after he spins around and fires.
If Ritchie can learn to use his hulking frame to park himself around the front of the net and let his hands do the magic work when the Ducks establish their patented cycle, we could begin to see a lot more goals come his way.
Nick Ritchie is 21 years old.
Let me say that again.
Nick Ritchie is 21 years old.
He has 125 total games of NHL experience. It is much too early to to say he will never live up to his draft pedigree. And yes, I know that works the other way too: it is too early to say that he will.
My point here is that Nick Ritchie is still a developing player, one that has the ceiling of one of the best power forwards in the NHL and the apparent future leader of the Corey Perry School of Scoring And Pissing People Off.
Speaking of Corey Perry, he did not truly live up to his potential until his 23 year old season when he scored 72 points (32G, 40A). Before that, he had 25 (13G, 12A), 44 (17G, 27A), and 54 (29G, 25A) points from ages 20-22.
It is also important to remember that power forwards traditionally take longer to develop than most other positions. If Ritchie had been potting 30+ goals in his first season or two, then he would be well on his way to having one of the greatest career starts of all-time for a player like that.
Give it a little more time and be patient. The next couple of seasons will be crucial in determining if Nick Ritchie can live up to his 10th overall pick status.