It’s an understatement to say that the Calgary Flames’ crease situation has been complicated the past few years. The organization has struggled to find consistent goaltending since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013, which has caused Brad Treliving to cast about in various directions in an effort to improve Calgary’s puck stopping.
David Rittich’s surprise contract was one of the results of those efforts. It was assumed Rittich was mostly signed to back up Jon Gillies in the AHL, but the 24-year-old actually outplayed his younger counterpart for much of the season, pushing coach Ryan Huska into a more equitable “platoon” type rotation.
An unknown commodity this time last year, Rittich’s impressive North American debut has pushed him into our top 20 prospects list.
A brief history
Although he wasn’t on the NHL’s radar until recently, Rittich was a regular in the elite ranks of the Czech system since he was a teenager. He played for the Czech U18 and U20 junior teams and then jumped into the pro ranks in the Czech2 league at 20 years old.
By 2015-16, Rittich had worked his way up into the premier Czech league (the same one Calgary plucked Daniel Pribyl from), where he became the starter for BK Mlada Boleslav. In 48 games played that year, Rittich managed an above average .919 save percentage, good for fourth best in the league.
That impressive stat line as well as his 6’3″ frame are probably what caught Calgary’s eye. Treliving inked Rittich to a one-year “try out” type contract to see if the undrafted goalie could translate that success on the other side of the pond. And he did.
Rittich played 31 games for the Stockton Heat and finished with a .924 save rate, well above Gillies’ .910. In fact, Rittich finished seventh overall in the AHL by this measure (amongst goalies who appeared in 30 or more games) and was the second best rookie goaltender behind Columbus prospect Anton Forsberg (.926). By the time the AHL playoffs rolled around, Rittich was battling Gillies for the starter’s position in the Heat net and even ended up playing in four postseason games to Gillies’ three.
The Toronto Star’s Scott Wheeler noted that Rittich has put himself in a good position for an NHL recall this season with his strong first North American year.
There are other goalie prospects knocking on the door for the Flames, Jon Gillies included, but Rittich’s playing time was earned last year. It’s unlikely Lack and Smith stay healthy all season and if Rittich picks up where he left off last season, he’ll likely be first in line to become the Flames’ backup as they look to get Gillies into more action. Rittich isn’t an overly athletic goalie but his sound positioning and rebound control could still someday make him a cheap NHL backup.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska attributed a lot of Rittich’s success last season to his attitude and his team-first demeanor.
He absolutely loves coming to the rink. You won’t find a guy that works on his game harder than he does. And he most definitely surprised us with how he was playing over the course of our year, where he gave us a chance to win each and every night he was in there. The greatest part or characteristic David has is he doesn’t care if we win a game 8-7 or if we win a game 1-0, as long as the team wins he’s happy. He’s kind of one of those guys where it’s not about his numbers, it’s about the win-loss column for him. As a coach, you do appreciate that.
What comes next?
Rittich was re-signed this summer to another one-year, two-way deal. His sudden prominence as a quality goalie prospect has actually made things slightly more complicated for Treliving and company since the Flames now have more pro goaltenders than spots in the organization.
With Rittich jostling with two of Calgary’s best prospects in Gillies and Tyler Parsons, he’ll have to put together another above average season in order to keep his place on the depth chart. If he can replicate or improve on his rookie season, it may force Calgary to do something about their building redundancy in the crease – which isn’t a terrible problem to have for a team that has struggled with netminding for the better part of five years.