Maple Leafs’ Ritchie Will Be an Offensive Upgrade on Hyman

Newcomer Nick Ritchie has connections with Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas and with the city of Toronto. Ritchie was born in Orangeville, Ontario, less than an hour’s drive from the greater Toronto area. In 2010-2011, he played for the under-16 AAA Toronto Marlboros. In 68 games for the Marlboros, he scored  50 goals and added 45 assists (for 95 points). 

He was then drafted by the Peterborough Petes, and went on to play 200 regular-season and playoff games for the Pete’s from 2011 to 2015. During that time, he amassed 92 goals and 98 assists (for 190 points). He also totalled 338 minutes in penalties.  

Nick Ritchie
Nick Ritchie with the Petes (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

During the 2014-15 season, Ritchie was traded to Dubas’ Soo Greyhounds. In 23 regular-season games for the Soo, he scored 15 goals and 15 assists (for 30 points). During that season’s playoffs, he sparkled – scoring 13 goals and 13 assists (for 26 points in 14 games). He was part of a Greyhounds team that went to the semi-finals before being ousted by the Connor McDavid-led Erie Otters. 

In Some Ways, Ritchie’s Career Mirrors Zach Hyman’s

Despite the fact that Zach Hyman was drafted four years prior to Ritchie, their first two pro seasons were practically mirror images. After Hyman was drafted 123rd overall in 2010 by the Florida Panthers, he decided to pursue his education at the University of Michigan. As a result, Hyman didn’t sign his first pro contract until June 2015 when he signed with the Maple Leafs after they acquired his rights in a trade for Gregg McKegg.

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After being drafted 10th in the 1st round in 2014, Ritchie signed a contract with the Anaheim Ducks before returning to juniors for the 2014-15 season.

Nick Ritchie Ducks
Nick Ritchie, with the Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite different paths, both Ritchie and Hyman started their pro careers playing in the AHL in 2015-16. That season Ritchie scored 16 goals and 14 assists (for 30 points) in 38 games with the San Diego Gulls, and Hyman scored 15 goals and 22 assists (for 37 points) in 59 games for the Toronto Marlies.

The Beginnings of Their NHL Careers

Both players received calls to their NHL teams during that season. Ritchie played 33 games for the Ducks, scoring two goals and two assists (for four points). Hyman played 16 games for the Maple Leafs, scoring four goals and two assists (for six points). The following season Ritchie scored 14 goals and 14 assists (for 28 points) in 77 games for the Ducks, while Hyman scored 10 goals and 18 assists (also for 28 points), in 82 games for the Maple Leafs.

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However, the following season (in 2017-18), their career scoring paths started to diverge. Hyman’s scoring production grew to 15 goals and 25 assists (for 40 points) in 82 games, while Ritchie’s shrunk to 10 goals and 17 assists (for 27 points) in 76 games.  

Over the next two seasons, Hyman’s production continued to climb while Ritchie’s fell. Hyman totalled 42 goals and 36 assists (for 78 points) during 122 games in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Ritchie only scored 18 goals and 34 assists (for 52 points) during 108 games for both the Ducks and the Boston Bruins during that same time span. 

Looking at Last Season’s Numbers and Building Outwards

Last season Ritchie rebounded to score 15 goals and 11 assists (for 26 points) in 56 games while Hyman scored 15 goals and 18 assists (for 33 points) in 43 games.  

If we extend both their numbers to 82 games, they would look like this. Hyman would average 29 goals and 34 assists (for 63 points) and Ritchie would average 22 goals and 16 assists (for 40 points) over an 82-game stretch.

Breaking those numbers down into percentages, Ritchie scored 25 percent fewer goals, 53 percent fewer assists, and 37 percent fewer points than Hyman.

Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, John Tavares
Former Toronto Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman, with his past line-mates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

There’s a big “however” in play when looking at these numbers. That “however” is looking at each players’ line-mates. Because NHL scoring is a group thing, line-mates matter. It’s easy to believe that Ritchie had the tougher go scoring points with his Bruins’ line-mates than Hyman did with his Maple Leafs’ teammates.

Comparing Their Line-mates

If we look at who each player played alongside most of the season, most of Ritchie’s time was played with David Krejci (419 minutes), Charlie Coyle (236 minutes), and Craig Smith (214 minutes). Most of Hyman’s time was played with Mitch Marner (430 minutes), Auston Matthews (372 minutes), and Ilya Mikheyev (206 minutes).

Comparing the output for each group of three players shows that Krejci, Coyle, and Smith combined for 27 goals, 65 assists, and 92 points. However, in contrast, Matthews, Marner, and Mikheyev combined for 68 goals, 82 assists, and 150 points.

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Again, if we look at those as percentages, the Bruins’ trio of forwards scored 60 percent fewer goals, 20 percent fewer assists, and 39 percent fewer points.  

The interesting comparison here is in points. Last season Ritchie scored 37 percent fewer points than Hyman. At the same time, his most regular line-mates scored 39 percent fewer points than Hyman’s line-mates.  

If Their Linemates Were Reversed?

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that, were the roles reversed and Hyman had played a majority of his shifts with Krejci, Coyle, or Smith; and, at the same time, Ritchie played a majority of his shifts with Marner, Matthews, and Mikheyev, their production would also be reversed. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Obviously, this post is speculative. No one can know for certain how Ritchie will fare alongside Matthews and Marner. He might not even play on their line. However, it would seem odd if he weren’t given a tryout with the prolific twosome.

Things We Didn’t Say, But Should Add

There’s so much to look at when comparing two different players. Here, we’ve looked at just one aspect – scoring. We need to add that the numbers we’ve used do not include penalty killing. Hyman was an integral part of the Maple Leafs’ penalty-kill unit. Ritchies usually doesn’t kill penalties, and isn’t even close to being as good defensively as Hyman. 

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Filling in for Hyman on the penalty-kill is one reason we believe Dubas signed David Kampf. Kampf does kill penalties and will likely take Hyman’s spot on the penalty kill.

Even Strength, There’s a Chance Ritchie Can Replace Hyman Well

At even strength however, it appears by studying their NHL-career production numbers that it’s possible Ritchie could replace Hyman at even strength. In fact, it’s possible that offensively Ritchie might even become an upgrade.

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Obviously, as we noted, it’s too early to say. A game has not been played yet. That said, both Ritchie and Hyman play a similar style. They’re physical in the corners and create havoc in front of the net. 

In fact, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Ritchie is bigger than Hyman’s 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. Is it possible Ritchie might even be a little more effective in the dirty areas of the ice than Hyman was?

We’ll have to see how it all works out. 

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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