By Thomas Harrington
Despite not lighting it up in the NHL, Nick Ritchie had a very strong professional rookie season last year, as he split time between the Anaheim Ducks and San Diego Gulls.
With the Gulls, Ritchie played in 38 games, scoring16 goals and recording 30 points. Despite missing 30 of San Diego’s games, Ritchie still finished seventh on the team in scoring and tied for third in goals on the team. If he had spent the entire season in San Diego, he probably would have given Brandon Montour a run for his money in terms of the team and rookie scoring lead, and undoubtedly would have led the Gulls in goals. Ritchie’s AHL career started out strong, as he scored three goals and four points in the first two games of the season. Whenever he was in the AHL, he was lighting it up, as his longest scoring drought was only four games, while his longest point streak was four games. His point totals didn’t stay at the same pace as the season progressed, but that’s at least partially because of how he bounced back and forth between San Diego and Anaheim throughout the season. Early on, he was able to form chemistry and consistency with his linemates, something that was a little more difficult to come by when he wasn’t getting regular playing time with them.
When Ritchie wasn’t lighting it up in the AHL, he was getting time with the Ducks. After dominating with San Diego through the first month and half of the season, Ritchie earned his first callup to the NHL and made his Anaheim debut against Carolina on November 16th and saw just over 10 minutes of action. Overall, he played in 33 games with the Ducks and scored two goals and four points. He played between 10 and 15 minutes most nights. Ritchie picked up his first point in his eighth game when he picked up an assist on Jakob Silfverberg’s goal. In his initial callup, he saw a lot of time with Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler. Unfortunately, while Ritchie was playing with those two, both of them were in the midst of terrible scoring slumps that they would not get out of until the second half of the season.
Ritchie stayed with the Ducks until mid-December, when he was returned to San Diego. He made his return to Anaheim’s lineup in February and finally got his first goal in March against the New Jersey Devils. He picked up his final two points of the season in Anaheim’s last two regular season games, including a goal against Washington in the final game of the season.
This coming season, I expect Ritchie to spend most, if not all, of the season in Anaheim. The Ducks have a gaping hole on the left side of their roster. Based on his play in San Diego last year, Ritchie is the most NHL ready forward prospect the Ducks have. He doesn’t need to be a 30 goal scorer this season (though that would be nice), but the Ducks will probably need at least 10 to 15 goals out of the young power forward. He has the offensive skills and shot to have that kind of success in the NHL; what he needs is the consistency. There were times when he looked lost in the NHL last season, which isn’t surprising, given that he was in the OHL the season before. Power forwards can take a while to develop, and Ritchie was incredibly young last season. Now that he has had a full professional season under his belt, he’s going to need to take a big step forward this season.
Ritchie could play on a number of different lines this season, but here are just a few of the possibilities. He could line up next to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, giving the Ducks a power forward line that can hit and score. Ritchie could also line up next to Kesler and Silfverberg again and see if that trio can have more success than they did last year. Randy Carlyle could also make a rookie fourth line with Ritchie and Nic Kerdiles or Stefan Noesen, with Jared Boll or Antoine Vermette providing a veteran presence on that line, as he did when he put Getzlaf and Perry with Todd Fedoruk. Carlyle likes to have his lines set and juggles them less than Bruce Boudreau does. However, with younger players, he is more likely to switch things up a little more as he searches for the right line combinations for them.
Ritchie currently has two seasons left on his entry-level deal. When it expires, he’ll be a restricted free agent, and given the lack of talent in Anaheim on the left side, the Ducks are going to have to bring him back, unless he ends up being a complete bust. However, his success in the AHL shows that he has the talent, he just needs to put it together at the NHL level. Normally, I’d prefer it if he spent more time with San Diego, getting more time to develop down there. However, the Ducks need help on the left side and Ritchie is the best forward prospect the Ducks currently have. He’s certainly not a lock to be Anaheim’s answer to their top six left wing hole, but he’s the best chance Anaheim has to fill that spot from within this season.
My next, and final, prospect update will be on Shea Theodore.
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