For those Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans who don’t know Tom Wilson, the 27-year-old Toronto native who plays right-wing for the Washington Capitals, let’s offer a bit of an introduction. Wilson plays an aggressive, physical game and racks up a large number of penalty minutes. He’s also become a scorer who contributes to the Capitals’ offense.
To say Wilson’s a controversial player is an understatement. He’s regularly fined for his hard checks on opponents, and in October 2018 he was suspended for 20 games for a hit on Oskar Sundqvist. After that suspension, Wilson worked to reshape his game – to limit his hits and start to focus on his scoring.
For almost three seasons, Wilson behaved better – sort of. However, in an early May game in 2021 against the New York Rangers, he came under fire yet again for his actions. In a sequence in front of the net, Wilson “appeared” to punch Pavel Buchnevich in the head when he was laying on the ice. Teammate Artemi Panarin came to his teammate’s aid and both teams began to brawl.
During that ensuing brawl, Wilson twice knocked Panarin to the ice. After referees and Rangers’ players pulled Wilson off Panarin, the penalties were dished out. Wilson received 14 penalty minutes, including a misconduct. Panarin received a two-minute roughing penalty but didn’t return to the ice for the game. By the way, Wilson scored a goal and added an assist during that game.
Eventually, Wilson was fined $5000 by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Some Similarities Between Nick Ritchie and Tom Wilson
Given that Wilson doesn’t play for the Maple Leafs, why discuss his NHL history in this post? The reason is that there are a number of similarities between Wilson and a player just signed to play for the Maple Leafs. That player is Nick Ritchie.
First, both players are big and strong, and both play with a mean streak. Specifically, Wilson is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Ritchie stands in at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds.
Second, both players were picked in the first round of their respective drafts, Wilson was chosen 16th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and Ritchie was chosen 10th overall in the 2014 Draft.
Third, both players have a temper that gets them into trouble. Both regularly take bad penalties.
Fourth, neither player is afraid to drop the gloves. However, Wilson draws more major penalties than Ritchie because he fights more. During the last three seasons, Wilson has had 15 fights and Ritchie has had six fights.
The Offensive Numbers at the Start of Their NHL Careers
What’s more to the point in this post is a comparison of the two players’ offensive numbers at the start of their NHL careers. The chart tracks Wilson’s first five seasons and all of Ritchie’s six seasons.
|Player||Games||Goals/Points||Goals per 82 Games||Points per 82 Games|
(Note: Ritchie’s numbers also include the last part of the 2015-16 season that he spent with the Anaheim Ducks. In that time, he scored two goals and two assists in 33 games. Including those numbers depresses Ritchie’s scoring averages.)
Comparing the offensive numbers shows that Ritchie has scored goals at twice the rate Wilson did in his first five seasons of his eight-season NHL career. Ritchie also scored close to 50% more points-per-game.
Before the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Few People Knew Wilson
Before the 2017-18 playoffs few people knew or cared much who Tom Wilson was. He was languishing on the bottom-six of the Washington Capitals’ roster, knocking heads, and taking dumb penalties.
Then an interesting thing happened. During the 2017-18 playoffs, Capitals’ head coach Barry Trotz added Wilson to a line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. By the time the playoffs were done, Wilson had scored five goals and 10 assists (for 15 points) in 21 games.
Those scoring numbers were three times his scoring rate during his career to that point. More interestingly, the Capitals hoisted a Stanley Cup. Since those playoffs, Wilson has scored 56 goals and 61 assists (for 117 points) in 178 games. Wilson moved from a player who averaged seven goals and 22 points per 82 games to a player who averaged 39 goals and 54 points per 82 games.
What Might Wilson’s Story Mean for Ritchie?
Getting back to Ritchie, he played most of the 2020-21 season, which was his best yet, with David Krejci. With Krejci, Ritchie scored 15 goals and 11 assists (for 26 points) in 56 games. That’s a 22-goal and 38-point pace. Krejci is a good player, but he’s not Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, or John Tavares good.
Neither Ritchie nor Wilson are playmakers. Wilson lets Ovechkin and Backstrom do the heavy lifting with the puck. He does his job, going to the corners and taking up residence in the front of the net. He puts himself in the right position to help finish off plays and also to “finish off” opposing players.
The question in this post is if there’s any reason a motivated Ritchie can’t do the exact same thing playing with Matthews, Marner, or Tavares.
One of the interesting things we’ve seen after the Ritchie signing is the split between whether signing the big left-winger was a good or a bad move. Maple Leafs’ fans seem to be split.
Obviously, we can’t know that signing will work out. But when we consider the example of Tom Wilson and the similarities between the two players – perhaps minus any of the over-the-line behavior – there might be a good reason for fans to give Ritchie a chance. As long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith, with whom I collaborated once again on this post, suggests, he’s personally “tingling at the thought of it.”
Good to have you on the roster, Nick. Welcome home to Ontario.
[Note: Stan Smith’s Facebook profile is https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687747632]
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The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf