One of the bigger stories down on the farm was the rise of David Rittich. The goaltender was a signing from the Czech Extraliga, a favourite market for the Flames in recent years. He was mostly brought in to solidify the goaltending depth in the AHL, which had been a mess after Jon Gillies went down with an injury early in 2015-16. Fair to say that he was mostly there for protection rather than as a potential impact player.
Of course, he became an impact player and stole the show for the Heat. It may have been absurd to think this a few months ago, but Rittich has become a possible answer to “what the heck are the Flames going to do for goalies next year?”
But is he that answer?
Until being signed by the Flames during last year’s offseason, Rittich has been an unknown commodity. Never went to the WJCs, never played internationally. For the majority of his career, he has bounced up and down between the various rungs of his hometown HC Dukla Jihlava, slowly getting better as the years went by. Rittich was bought by BK Mlada Boleslav in the Czech Extraliga in 2014-15, and he made an unspectacular 23 appearances with a .891 SV%. His sophomore season was better, playing 48 of 52 games and finishing with a .919 SV%, earning the attention of the Calgary Flames.
|SV%||Shots against||Goals against|
|# (Rank )||0.924 (8th)||883 (31st)||41 (5th)|
Ranked against the AHL’s definition of a qualified goaltender: 1440 minutes in net
Rittich didn’t see the workload Jon Gillies did in volume (313 more shots for Gillies) and per game (30.67 vs. 28.48), but he still performed better. One thousand shots is generally a nice sample size for judging goalies, and even though he’s pretty close to hitting that (about four or five more games’ worth of shots), you should take his SV% with a grain of salt.
The game-by-game reveals some minor problems. Rittich did have five shutouts, but he also had 12 games where he was below .900 SV%. Perhaps some of his earlier season struggles can be explained by an adjustment period, but for the most part, he was a pretty solid goalie.
Brandon Kisker, Stockton Heat play-by-play man, offers some perspective on Rittich’s season:
He’s so calm. He’s never out of position and he’s extremely athletic. While Jon can steal the show with a show stopping save, Rittich always seemed to not need to make an incredible save because he was always in the right spot. Positionally sound goaltender for sure. The thing that strikes me was his rebound control. I think the two things you need to be an NHL goaltender is the ability to control where the puck goes and to be able to perform at the same level every game. You knew Rittich was going to give you his all each time he started as I could count on probably one finger a game where he was subpar in. Other then that outlier, he was pretty consistent.
With uncertainty in the Flames’ net, where does he see Rittich’s NHL ceiling? Could he be a backup for the Flames next year?
I think he’s a legitimate NHL prospect and not just as a backup. I can see him playing in the NHL and not stopping until he’s a starter. To me, this is the kind of find that comes around once in a while. An unknown entity who exceeds expectations and is so well liked among his teammates that he could be that dark horse that nobody thinks about until he’s already seized an opportunity.
There’s a lot to like about Rittich. He’s young-ish, had a good first North American season, and will come cheap.
But is he ready for the NHL yet? The answer to that question is way up in the air. Certainly, not many expected that he would be a name in contention for an NHL job, but is one-half season a good enough gauge to determine whether he is worthy of that job? He still has some flaws that need to be ironed out before he can make a serious case for the NHL net.
Based on the previous season’s results, he should have the inner edge over Jon Gillies, but no guarantees until September.
Hunter Smith, Jon Gillies, Andrew Mangiapane, Emile Poirier, Austin Carroll, Morgan Klimchuk, Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Rasmus Andersson, Kenney Morrison, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington, Stepan Falkovsky, Keegan Kanzig/Mason McDonald, Ryan Culkin/Brett Pollock, Mitchell Mattson, Adam Fox, Brandon Hickey, Riley Bruce/Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons, Eetu Tuulola, Matt Phillips, Dillon Dube, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Linus Lindstrom, Pavel Karnaukhov/Rushan Rafikov, Tim Harrison