What can Nick Ritchie bring to the Calgary Flames?

Photo credit:Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Stevenson
1 year ago
Trade Deadline 2023 saw the Calgary Flames move out Connor Mackey and Brett Ritchie to the Arizona Coyotes for pending unrestricted free agents Troy Stecher and Nick Ritchie.
A former high end draft pick that has bounced around a bit since leaving Anaheim – let’s see if we can project the impact Ritchie could have on this roster.

Offensive impact

The stereotypical definition of Ritchie’s style of play would be that of a power forward. Hard on the forecheck with an emphasis on the physical rather than the swiftness. He does have an NHL level nose for the net but struggles to get himself in position to execute. When he does get an opportunity he tries to make sure to get the chance from the middle of the ice rather than a perimeter shot.
Here’s his career impacts to date, I’d like to highlight a few seasons where Ritchie found success:
Focusing on just the upper half of these rink pictures to discuss offence is where I’m at now, we can discuss the defence below. To me I see 4 seasons of offence that suggest Ritchie could bring something more to the table. 2016-17, 2017-18, 2019-20, and 2020-21 all show signs that Nick can be of service. The caveat is at this point we know that impact is dependant on having quality linemates.
His offence from earlier in his career is more directed to chances directly in front of the net – what some people would call the dirty area. Calgary has been missing a piece willing to go there consistently to get battered and bruised. Later while he was in Boston the attack became more of an off-wing cluster of attempts from distance. It was at a heavy enough volume to suggest the team regularly had puck possession, but isn’t as potent or effective as he was to start his career.
I do believe Nick Ritchie can add something to the offence. Calgary’s strength in puck possession and his strength along the wall could lead to a better match here than some may think. It’s not like they traded for a perennial 20 goal scorer, but they did get a guy who has the ability to contribute more than others currently on the roster.

In transition

I’m not going to sugarcoat things Ritchie does not help a line maintain possession through the neutral zone very well. He’s more of a dump it in and go get it kind of player rather than someone who wants to create rush offence. He’s actually one of the best in the entire league at gaining possession after a dump-in.
That is a feature you are getting from him that nobody else on the roster can really do – the other guy good at doing that on the Flames is Milan Lucic. Unfortunately being able to fly-in on the forecheck isn’t the only transitional aspect of the game and in most respects Ritchie comes in a step behind
So through two sections from two different outlets we can clearly see that Ritchie has a positive impact on shot generation and he has a better than normal ability at deflections. The Flames have sorely missed Tkachuk’s deflection ability, but do not expect Nick to get anywhere near what 19 used to do.
The failed exit percentage is a bit high for my liking – and I don’t envision that staying to that tier in Calgary. I think it takes time for him to adjust to the pace that is expected which could lead to some early hiccups, but the team situation and strength of comrades is significantly higher on the Flames than the Coyotes.
If the puck hits Ritchie’s stick in the neutral zone expect an immediate dump-in. Playing with Huberdeau too that seems contrary to the point, but he’s shown if he tries to handle the puck it leads to more turnovers. Playing him with possession heavy players (Kadri) might be the best fit because they can do the carrying for him – that way Ritchie just has to get in position to score or at least cause havoc. If that doesn’t work than the next best spot for him is playing in a clear fourth line role.

Defensive impact

This is where Ritchie has become a red flag to some teams in recent years. The offence certainly has fluctuated and changed based on team and situation but his constant ability to be out there while the other team gets quality scoring chances holds true across his whole career. The only time it ever looked close to acceptable in the last 5 seasons was his time spent in Boston.
I will also go out on a limb and say that the level of chances against are going to go down significantly. Not due to anything he’s doing just based purely on situation. Lets compare how Calgary is defending as a team to the of the Coyotes:
Red = bad, blue = good. Anybody experiencing a 20% shift in defensive effectiveness is going to see their personal and individual impact numbers improve.
Most likely scenario: Ritchie’s defensive impact comes in at below replacement level, but his offence spikes to a place where it’s worth having him in the lineup on a night to night basis. This add doesn’t drastically move the needle for Calgary to change how I feel about their playoff chances, but it allows them to see for 19 games if Ritchie is someone that can help them next year.

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