After Calgary Flames cameo, what does the future hold for Nick Ritchie?
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike23 days ago
When Calgary Flames fans recall Nick Ritchie’s 2022-23 season, they’re probably still a bit fixated on his usage in the shootout in Game 81 with the season on the line. But not only was his selection not Ritchie’s fault, but it distracts quite a bit from the rest of his season.
Ritchie only suited up 16 times for the Flames, but those games continued a perplexing pro career for the Ontario product.
The younger brother of Brett Ritchie, Nick grew up in Orangeville, Ontario and played his junior hockey in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes and (briefly) the Soo Greyhounds. He represented Canada at the Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the Under-18 Worlds and the World Juniors – winning gold at each event – and was selected by the Anaheim Ducks at 10th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Ritchie went pro in 2015-16 and split that season between the Ducks and their AHL affiliate in San Diego. He made the Ducks NHL roster out of camp in 2016-17 and cemented himself as an NHL regular. He spent parts of five seasons with the Ducks organization before a trade to Boston began a period where he bounced around a bit.
Ritchie was traded to Boston prior to the 2020 trade deadline for Danton Heinen. Then he spent a year with Boston (2020-21) and signed with Toronto as a free agent. He was traded to Arizona at the 2022 trade deadline with a draft pick for Ilya Lyubushkin and Ryan Dzingel.
Depending on how you want to measure it, Ritchie’s best offensive season was either 31 points in 2018-19 or 15 goals in 2020-21. He hasn’t quite found the consistent offensive output that scouts hoped he would have when he became a first-round selection.
Ritchie joined the Flames at the trade deadline – his third trade deadline move in four seasons – as he was traded with Troy Stecher from Arizona in exchange for Connor Mackey and Brett Ritchie, the first-ever trade where brothers were swapped for each other.
Ritchie played primarily on the Flames’ second line, though he was shifted to the fourth line closer to the end of the season. His most frequent linemates were Nazem Kadri and one of Dillon Dube or Jonathan Huberdeau. He had four goals and one assist in 16 games. He also had five minor penalties and a minus-6 rating. He was scratched four times during his tenure with the Flames; the first scratch was to give him time to adjust to a new team, while the other three were part of a forward group shuffle.
Was Ritchie a different-maker for the Flames? Not particularly. He scored big goals at key times, but he also took bad penalties at bad times. The good and the bad of his time with the club more or less cancel each other out.
Ritchie’s 27 years old and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He’s a fairly consistent 0.4 point-per-game NHL player. He’s been inconsistent throughout his career, but when he’s on his game his offensive outbursts can be incredibly useful, especially for teams needing scoring from secondary sources. But his consistency challenges are what limits him to being a secondary (or tertiary) scorer on most teams. His tenure with the Flames was more or less representative of his career as a pro.
Ritchie’s an NHL player. He’s got the physicality and hockey sense to be a useful player on a good team. But the challenge will be finding him the right fit and the right role, as his defensive details may not be good enough consistently enough for him to be a bottom-six forward. He may just be a middle-six guy that gets power play time to be effective, and there aren’t a lot of teams that can accommodate a player in a niche role like that.
For salary cap reasons – and due to the number of forwards on the Wranglers making a push – Ritchie’s tenure with the Flames is probably over. It’ll be interesting to see where he lands this off-season, and what his role and contract ends up looking like.
Letter Grade: C-
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