At the trade deadline last February, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was looking to add a physical presence and secondary scoring for a playoff run. Sweeney was able to work two deals with the Anaheim Ducks that he hoped could solve both needs.
In the first deal, Sweeney made with the Ducks, he landed Ondrej Kase for David Backes, prospect Axel Andersson, and the Bruins’ 2020 first-round draft pick. A few days later, Sweeney’s second deal with Anaheim was a straight swap of forwards with Danton Heinen heading west for Nick Ritchie.
After a frustrating first 15 games with the Bruins for Ritchie and the team last season, things have gone much better for the 25-year-old left wing in his second season in Boston.
First Impressions Were Not Good
When the Bruins acquired Ritchie, things did not go as well as everyone had hoped. He played in just seven games before the NHL paused its season on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. In those seven games, he had one goal and one assist with a minus-two.
Following a four-month break, the NHL returned to action in August with two playoff bubbles, one in Toronto for the Eastern Conference and one in Edmonton for the Western Conference. The Bruins and Ritchie were hoping that the playoffs in Toronto would go better than the first seven regular season games did.
Things actually went from bad to worse once the games got underway in Toronto. He scored one goal in eight games between the three round robin games Boston played and in the five playoff games he dressed for with a minus-three. He brought his physical presence, but it ended up costing both Ritchie and the Bruins. He recorded 27 hits in the eight games, but he had 19 penalty minutes, which put the Black and Gold in tough situations.
His most costly penalty occurred in Game 4 for the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the Bruins trailing 2-1 in the series and 2-0 in the game, Ritchie was called for a five-minute major boarding penalty for a hit on Lightning forward Yanni Gourde late in the second period. Already with their backs against the wall in the series and having trouble scoring on Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, a power-play goal by Victor Hedman in the final half-minute of the power play put the game and essential the series away.
New Season, Different Results
Over the short offseason, nobody would have been surprised if Sweeney had looked to unload Ritchie in a trade. However, the Bruins general manager decided to hold on to him for the final year of his three-year, $4.6 million contract with the hope that he would be able to become the player the Bruins had hoped they were getting last February in the trade.
Ritchie had an impressive training camp at Warrior Ice Arena earlier this month. So much so, that coach Bruce Cassidy moved him to the first power-play unit in the absence of David Pastrnak, who is out to begin the season recovering from hip surgery in September. That move has paid off in a big way.
Ritchie is third on the team in scoring through the first seven games and most of his production has been on the man advantage. The Bruins’ power play, which was ranked second in the league in 2019-20 behind the Edmonton Oilers, is sizzling early in the season. Boston has eight power-play goals and Ritchie has three of them. He has even assisted on two of the other five goals, which have been scored by Patrice Bergeron (three) and Brad Marchand (two).
Bouncing back between the second and third lines early in the season, Ritchie, who is averaging 15:03 of ice time a night, has also been a much more disciplined player. He has taken just two minor penalties in the seven games.
Early Returns Have Been Good in 2020-21
Drafted in the first round, 10th overall, in the 2014 Entry Draft by the Ducks, Ritchie averaged nine goals and 14 assists in five seasons with Anaheim. Going into the 56-game shortened season, the Bruins would take anything close to those numbers from him. In the first seven games this season, Ritchie’s offensive game and discipline have been what Boston has needed.