Graduated Prospect: Nick Ritchie

Photo: Sergei Belski-USA Today

By Thomas Harrington

Welcome to the first graduated prospect review, Nick Ritchie. As I’ve done the last couple of summers, I’ll be going through and writing about most of Anaheim’s prospects this summer. I’ll start out with the four prospects who graduated to being full-time NHL players this past season, followed by prospect profiles for any new prospects the Ducks picked up in the last year, and finally, the prospect updates, where I’ll give updates on all prospects still with the organization that I wrote about a year ago and are still with the organization. The four graduated prospects are Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Ondrej Kase, and Brandon Montour.

Though technically not a rookie this past season, I still counted Nick Ritchie among Anaheim’s prospects this year. In the 2015-16 season, Ritchie was up and down between San Diego and Anaheim, appearing in 33 games with the Ducks, and none in the playoffs. Ultimately, that’s why I still counted him as a prospect this year, because he was used sparingly throughout the season and saw no postseason action, but now, he’s definitely graduated from the prospect ranks.

After being back and forth between the AHL and NHL in his first professional campaign, Ritchie spent the entirety of this season playing for the Ducks. Overall, he appeared in 77 games and scored 14 goals and 28 points. While those aren’t insane numbers, for a second year pro in his first full NHL season, they were certainly respectable. In fact, coming into this season, I was hoping that he’d score between 10 and 15 goals, so his 14 goals is right in line for my expectations this season. His 14 assists was a little low, as I was hoping for him to be in the 35 to 40 point range, but it was still a solid season for him from an offensive standpoint. Part of the reason for him not quite hitting that point mark was his ice time, as it was all over the place. Some nights, he was up on the top line next to Ryan Getzlaf and playing between 15 and 20 minutes. Other nights, he was in Anaheim’s bottom six and played less than 10 minutes. Regardless, 14 goals for Ritchie was definitely a step in the right direction. In the playoffs, he played in 15 of Anaheim’s 17 games and scored four goals and no assists. In those 15 games, he played less than 10 minutes only three times, and one of those was the Ducks’ final game, when he was ejected for boarding early in the first. While not one of Anaheim’s best forwards in the playoffs, he was one of their better forwards against Nashville, as he scored two goals in the six game loss, including one of Anaheim’s game-winners. He also had the series winning goal against Edmonton in game seven, helping to break Anaheim’s curse.

With his offensive game still maturing, there was one aspect of Ritchie’s game that he excelled at–his physical play. In the regular season, he led the team with 247 hits, 20 more than second place Josh Manson who played in five more games. Overall, his 247 hits ranked eighth in the NHL, and fourth among forwards. However, his physical play did lead to some bad and unnecessary penalties, leading him to collect 62 penalty minutes in the regular season, and an eye popping 46 minutes in the playoffs, a total that led the NHL when the Ducks were eliminated. If he can keep up the physical play but eliminate the bad penalties, he could become an incredibly effective power forward.

This coming season, Ritchie’s offensive game should continue to grow. A year ago, I expected 10 to 15 goals and he got 14. This coming season, I’m hoping for at least 15 to 20 goals and 40 to 45 points. Depending on what changes happens in the offseason to Anaheim’s roster, there’s a good chance that he’ll be counted on to shoulder more of the offensive load. Against Nashville, he saw a lot of time with Getzlaf and Corey Perry. It’s a line that has been tried multiple times over the last couple of seasons, with some success. Ritchie has also looked good next to Antoine Vermette and Kase. Personally, I’d like to see what he could do next to Rickard Rakell and Kase. I think he could help open up a lot of space for the creative abilities that Rakell and Kase have.

While I’m hoping for Ritchie’s offensive abilities to continue to grow, I’m also hoping that he cleans up his game a little bit. He has a tendency to take bad offensive zone penalties. He also sometimes can just seemingly disappear from the game while he’s on the ice. As with most young players, he needs to work on his consistency from game to game and shift to shift.

Ritchie was suspended for two games this past season for roughing. In a game against Chicago, Michal Rozsival cross checked Perry to the ice. It wasn’t an incredibly dirty play, as Perry did turn his back into Rozsival, but the hit did occur close the boards and Ritchie didn’t like it. Ritchie immediately went after Rozsival and dropped his gloves. Rozsival refused to fight, but Ritchie still punched him. He was given two games for that punch, but that’s actually a suspension that I’m okay with. While I don’t condone punching someone who does not want to fight, I have no problem with players sticking up for their teammates. Perry was slow to get up, and Ritchie was seeking retribution for what he thought was a dangerous hit. Also, Rozsival was looking directly at Ritchie when he was punched. It wasn’t a sucker punch, he saw it coming. That being said, while I’m fine with Ritchie sticking up for his teammate, I’m also okay with the NHL suspending him. When you punch someone who doesn’t want to fight, there should be consequences. However, two games was a game too many, as about a week before, Micheal Haley committed a similar infraction but was suspended for only one game. With that suspension, Ritchie missed the final game of the regular season, as well as Anaheim’s first playoff game.

Ritchie has one year remaining on his entry level contract and he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. There’s little doubt in my mind that the Ducks will re-up the big winger in a year’s time, if not extend him sooner. How this season goes will go a long way to determining what kind of contract he signs. If he can have a breakout season in the final year of his contract, similar to the one that Rakell had at the end of his entry level deal, he could get a similar deal of four to six years for close to $4 million a season. However, Ritchie could prefer a shorter, bridge deal, to prove that he deserves a longer, more lucrative contract in two or three seasons. If Ritchie does struggle through the next season, both sides are probably more likely to go this route. If Ritchie does hit the 20 goal mark, Anaheim will likely want to sign him to a Rakell-like deal, while Ritchie would probably prefer the bridge route to try and get more money on his next contract.

While Ritchie has a long way to go before becoming an elite power forward, his first full season in the NHL was a successful one. For his performance this season, I give him a B. His play was erratic at times and he took some bad penalties, but his physical play and 14 goals meant he had a solid season for the Ducks. Now he needs to build on it.

The next graduated prospect will be on Theodore.

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May 25th, 2017