Nick Ritchie: Time for the Ducks to Move On?

With 186 NHL games under his belt, it’s safe to say that Nick Ritchie has not yet panned out for the Anaheim Ducks. The 6’2, 226-pound forward has put up 26 goals and 33 assists since he first took the ice in the 2015-16 season. While these numbers aren’t abysmal, they’re not quite as high as Ducks’ fans and staff hoped when he was drafted 10th overall in 2014. He has excelled at one thing, however – taking penalties.

The young power forward has racked up a total of 171 PIM, many of which came from, well, dumb decisions. One quick glance at any social media post about Ritchie will show you that fans of Anaheim (and the rest of the league) are beginning to get fed up with his lack of discipline. It doesn’t help that several players drafted after him, such as Dylan Larkin and David Pastrnak, have become major forces in the league. Does Nick Ritchie deserve a little more leeway, or is it fair to call him a bust?

Power Forward with a Problem

Ritchie was a highly-touted prospect that many experts predicted going in the top 10, mostly somewhere between pick seven and nine. Interestingly, Christopher Ralph of THW correctly predicted him to go 10th overall. He was well-known for his size (then weighing in at just under 230 pounds), his innate ability to play in front of the net, and his mean streak. He also had another important, surprising ability: his wrist shot, which Ben Kerr at Last Word On Sports called the “best wrist shot in his draft class.”

Nick Ritchie
Nick Ritchie (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Ritchie had the size, playing style and talent to become a deadly power forward, yet that hasn’t happened. In many instances, all he’s become is a headache. Despite the fact that he averaged only 13 minutes of ice time, he clocked in at the second most penalties for the team, following only Kevin Bieksa. That’s pretty impressive for a team that ices Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler – though to be fair, Kesler played only 44 games in the season and still managed to get the fifth most PIM, but that’s another story.

What’s worse is that Ritchie’s penalties seem to come at the absolute worst times. In the 2016-17 playoffs the Ducks were matched against the Nashville Predators, a team that has notoriously had their number. Down 2-0 in the first period in a series that they were losing 3-2, Nick Ritchie earns a game misconduct for boarding Victor Arvidsson, leaving a bloody mark on Arvidsson’s forehead.

Yes, it was a bit unlucky with Arvidsson turning into the boards just as Ritchie approached, but when a player is vulnerable like that you need to play smarter. Another instance with the Predators came a year later in the 2017-18 season when, frustrated at having his stick lifted out of his hands, Ritchie punched Kevin Fiala while Fiala was celebrating scoring a goal. In 2017, a couple punches to the face of Chicago Blackhawks’ Michal Rozsival, in response to Rozsival cross-checking Corey Perry, warranted facial surgery and earned Ritchie a two game suspension. In case it’s unclear: Nick Ritchie has a discipline problem.

Ritchie’s Last Chance(s)

Despite Ritchie’s lackluster performances and inability to stay out of the penalty box, Randy Carlyle has had no issue giving him playing time. He got regular minutes on a line with Adam Henrique and Ondrej Kase, a trio that had several hot streaks in the 2017-18 season and were the only sign of life on an anemic Anaheim offense. However, much of that offensive spark came from his two line mates and less from him. While his play off of the puck may have contributed to points, his name was often absent from the score sheet.

Nevertheless, Ducks fans shouldn’t be so quick to write Ritchie off. As a prospect, his play style was compared to power forwards like Milan Lucic and Jamie Benn. Lucic and Benn performed better in their first few years than Ritchie has, it took some time for both players to hit their scoring streak. For Lucic it was his fourth season, when he tallied 62 points. For Benn, it was 79 points in his fifth season. This will be the fourth season for Nick Ritchie, and his first season only included 33 games.

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Will he be as good as either of these two players? Probably not, but I believe his ceiling will be closer to 40-45 points than his season-high of 28. I’m willing to give him another two seasons to accomplish that, so long as he improves his discipline. Although his contract hasn’t been signed yet, it will likely be a two-year “prove it” contract giving him the opportunity to do just that. He can continue logging consistent third line minutes or even time on the bottom line, should Randy Carlyle finally start playing it.

To get to this projected ceiling, Ritchie needs to do three things. First, cut down on the penalties. Second is to get to the front of the net, just like he used to as a prospect. Similarly, the third step is for Ritchie to shoot more often. The bulky winger took 122 shots in the 2017-18 season, which was less than Ducks defensemen Brandon Montour, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler. Put these together and he will become a much more employable and effective player, perhaps even the power forward he was once projected to become.

Sports fans hate being told to “give it more time” but, in the case of Nick Ritchie, I think that’s exactly what needs to be done. Nick, if you’re reading this, here’s a hint: a lot of people are looking for you to prove yourself, and it’s tough to do that in the penalty box.