One of the more pleasant surprises of the 2020-21 seasons for the Boston Bruins has been the emergence of forward Nick Ritchie. It’s fair to say that nobody could have seen his transition into a fan-favorite in Boston coming given the start to his tenure, but it’s a welcome one nonetheless.
When Ritchie was acquired by the Bruins at the 2020 Trade Deadline, the response was fairly unanimous; acquiring a floundering power-forward in exchange for Danton Heinen, a player who could feasibly play up-and-down the lineup without concern, was a weird decision. Though Heinen definitely had his fair share of critics in Boston, it’s safe to say that Ritchie’s first 15 games in Boston didn’t instill a lot of confidence in fans of the team.
In seven regular-season games, Ritchie would score just one goal and two points (to go along with 19 penalty minutes). In eight playoff games, he’d score one goal and fail to stand out in a positive way. For many, penciling him into a top-six spot in the 2020-21 lineup was simply unnecessary and bound to fail.
In general, including Ritchie into any offseason lineup predictions was met with a lot of backlash. For many, the memories of the Bruins experimenting with Brett Ritchie, Nick’s older brother, was still fresh on their minds. In 27 games with the Bruins, Brett would score just two goals and six points and also saw himself playing in 12 AHL games in Providence. It was an experiment that failed before it ever really began.
With expectations of a Stanley Cup run in mind, it’s not hard to figure out why fans of the team would rather skip another failed venture with a Ritchie brother as the results seemed inevitable.
Fast-forward 31 games into the season, however, and Ritchie has scored nine goals and 17 points. Projecting that over a full 82-game schedule and Ritchie would be on pace for nearly 24 goals and 44 points. Both would be career-high marks for the 25-year-old.
Ritchie’s Career Has Been Rejuvenated in Boston
A big-bodied left-winger who seems to feel right at home on the Bruins’ second-line and first power-play unit, Ritchie has gone from one of Boston’s least-favorite players to a player who has won over the hearts of everyone in less than half of a typical 82-game season.
Ritchie’s fit in Boston makes perfect sense given his linemate in David Krejci, as well.
Historically, Krejci has played very well alongside big-bodied players who can drive to the net and make use of their size. With Ritchie, he seems to finally have that option again and it’s paying off in spades. Though Krejci has struggled with scoring goals during the 2020-21 season, he’s been able to contribute on the scoresheet with one goal and 18 points through 27 games. It’s not the most awe-inspiring season statistically for Krejci, but the idea of him having a consistent running-mate in Ritchie every game is a plus.
Whether it’s Jake DeBrusk or Craig Smith (who was signed to help with depth-scoring) skating alongside the duo of Krejci and Ritchie is yet to be decided, though the Bruins could certainly do with another top-six scoring winger to fill that role instead.
For now, Krejci getting the most out of Ritchie is a positive. It’s also impossible to say that Krejci’s impact hasn’t been felt this season as the team was noticeably worse when he was missing from action due to injury.
For Ritchie, this opportunity in Boston is a welcome one as well. Drafted with the 10th selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, expectations were high for Ritchie to eventually turn into a prototypical power-forward to skate alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim.
Things didn’t go quite as planned, however, and Ritchie would cap-out at 14 goals in his sophomore year while also scoring nine goals and 31 points in 60 games in his best season from a point-production standpoint. He’d never skate in more than 15 minutes per game over the course of an entire season, however, and his tenure with the Ducks would see him average just 13:31 over 287 games.
In Boston, though, Ritchie has been able to boost that number to 16:02 this season, a career-high by over one full minute.
The Bruins scoring still leaves a lot to be desired, but Ritchie’s performance cannot be overstated. The team needs more from their other players, that goes without saying. Still, things could be even worse if Ritchie didn’t translate so well into their system.
It’s unclear what the Bruins will end up doing at the trade deadline, but regardless of the moves they do or do not make, Ritchie should not be removed from his spot alongside Krejci if the team can prevent it. Having a third-line featuring players that are currently being used interchangeably in the top-six seems like a much better distribution of talent. Getting the most out of their depth players will be key, something that’s been discussed ad nauseam for years. Unfortunately, the Bruins just haven’t been able to hit that home-run that they’ve wanted to when aiming to fix these depth scoring issues.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.