Avalanche’s Calum Ritchie Could Power His Way Onto Opening Day Lineup

On Monday, the Colorado Avalanche officially signed Calum Ritchie to a three-year entry-level contract (ELC). Ritchie was by far the most talented player at the development camp last week and was rewarded for it. In an offseason filled with questions about the opening day roster and lingering injuries, like the Valeri Nichushkin and Gabriel Landeskog situations, this signing was one many Avalanche fans were hoping for.

Many of the organization’s highly-touted prospects have already signed their ELC, like Nikolai Kovalneko, Sean Behrens, and now Ritchie, who will try to make the jump to the NHL sooner rather than later, given their performance in the minor leagues. The Avalanche know how to draft and develop their players and make sure that every spot in the lineup is earned, especially with their window for another Stanley Cup in sight.

Ritchie suffered significant setbacks leading up to the 2023 Draft, when he was selected 27th overall, including a shoulder injury sustained at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup that affected his draft position. As he prepares for the upcoming season, Ritchie remains focused on honing his skills, gaining strength, and proving his worth for a permanent spot on Colorado’s roster.

Who Is Calum Ritchie?

Calum Ritchie is 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, 19 years old, and plays center. He was ranked much higher than where he was selected due to the shoulder injury suffered in the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which left many teams wondering how serious it could be and how it could affect his play.

His play thrives off his offensive game, but he continues to improve in all areas. His shot is powerful, not the most dangerous you have seen, but left with enough time and space, he can make opponents pay when he picks a corner and rifles it in. His playmaking has grown substantially, allowing seamless cross-ice passes quickly, spreading the defence and making them scramble.

Calum Ritchie Colorado Avalanche
Calum Ritchie, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He is coming off a dominant season with the Oshawa Generals, where he scored 28 goals and 80 points in 50 games, leading the team in points and assists. Once he returned from shoulder surgery in early November, he was one of the top players in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In the playoffs, he picked up 30 points in 21 games and helped Oshawa reach the OHL Final before losing to the London Knights in four games. He again led the Generals in points and assists in the playoffs and was second in points and assists within the OHL playoffs, behind Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Easton Cowen.

What Can Ritchie Bring to the Lineup?

Ritchie’s game revolves around offence, and what better organization to join than the Avalanche, where it’s all about fast-paced offence centred around elite talent? As the Generals’ top-line center, Ritchie mainly had the puck on his stick to drive the offence. Surrounded by players like the recent third overall pick in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft Beckett Sennecke, his playmaking has improved at finding the open shooter while taking matters into his own hands and finding the shot if he sees fit.

He could fit anywhere in the Avalanche lineup, but Logan O’Connor, Nikolai Kovalenko or Artturi Lehkonen could really help his game, playing with players who can shoot well, are fast and can help defensively.

Related: Avalanche Prospect Calum Ritchie Talks Draft, OHL & Future

He could also make a big impact on the power play. It would take a miraculous show of skill to earn time on the top power-play unit, but he could easily help the second unit, with players like Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Ross Colton and Miles Wood surrounding him to show what he can do, allowing his passing game to take a back seat to his shot.

He may not have a power-play shot like Leon Draisaitl or Alexander Ovechkin, but he has improved his off-the-puck game. He skates well and positions himself effectively to receive passes from his teammates. Given the opportunity to shoot, he can score with precision. His strong off-the-puck play and high hockey IQ should help him develop further with the Avalanche, improve his skills, and make plays on his own.

What Holds Him Back From Playing This Season

The main factor that will prevent Ritchie from making the opening-night roster is his position. He plays center, and right now, the third line will be the best option for him. Last season, the line consisted of Wood, Colton, and O’Connor, and I think Ritchie could mesh well with O’Connor when he returns from surgery rehab. Wood brings excellent speed and a veteran presence to the line, which would force Colton to play center on the fourth line. However, with a cap hit of $4 million, that’s an expensive fourth-line center.

If head coach Jared Bednar doesn’t see fit to break up the third line or they are performing well (which they did last season), Ritchie’s only place left outside the third line is the fourth line. This decision could hinder Ritchie’s growth and development and waste his abilities on a line that plays around 10 minutes a game.

Nathan MacKinnon is a lock as the top-line center, and Casey Mittelstadt recently received a contract extension and will likely return to the second line. On paper, there is no real space for a young center like Ritchie, and he has never played out of position. His game, size and abilities are all developed to be a center, and it could be a risk to move him to the wing just to fit him into the lineup.

His entry-level contract won’t kick in until Ritchie plays ten games for the Avalanche this season. If he doesn’t make the team, he will return to the Generals. Another year in the OHL wouldn’t be a bad thing, as he will only turn 20 on Jan. 21. The Avalanche also don’t have to rush to get him into the lineup; they have key players already. Their focus should be on Ritchie’s development.

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