As the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline approached, the Boston Bruins knew they needed more toughness. The roster was talented but needed more grit to succeed in the postseason. In a deal with the Anaheim Ducks, the Bruins brought in 2014 first-round draft pick, Nick Ritchie. While the talent was there, Ritchie had not yet capitalized upon it. His time with the Ducks was largely unproductive given his draft slot. Early in this season, Ritchie has shown why he was such a high draft pick with impressive performances each night.
Nick Ritchie is Going Bananas in Boston
The trade for Nick Ritchie appeared to be a fairly even trade. The Bruins sent Danton Heinen to Anaheim in a one-for-one deal. Both players figured to slot into a third-line role. In terms of pure offensive output, the Ducks appeared to win this deal. Over the course of his time in Boston, he had scored at a 0.47 point per game clip. Ritchie only had a 0.38 point per game pace in 287 games with Anaheim. While this may have initially appeared as a loss for the Bruins, they had other things in mind with this deal.
The benefit of Boston having Ritchie was his frame. Over the course of four seasons, Heinen never played the physical game. His style relied upon finesse and skill rather than pure strength. Ritchie brought a new dynamic to the team that was missing. Most of Boston’s forwards had clearly defined roles. Outside of Charlie Coyle, you were either a speedy forward who put pucks in the net or you were a fourth-line bully. Ritchie was a rare combination of both. He may not have been the most graceful player on the ice, but he was capable of helping generate offence. Ritchie brought the talents of a power forward to the team that was mostly missing prior to his arrival.
Nick Ritchie Makes First Impressions
Ritchie was not given much of an opportunity to make an impression when he first arrived with the team. He played just seven games before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the league. He failed to make much of an impact in that period of time with a goal and assist. This is not to say he wasn’t given an opportunity. Many assumed Ritchie would slot in on Boston’s third line next to Charlie Coyle upon his arrival. Instead, head coach Bruce Cassidy opted to give him a chance on the second line with David Krejci and Ondrej Kase, opting to move Jake DeBrusk to the third unit. That did not last long and DeBrusk would return to the second line after just a few games.
The postseason proved to be a different beast for Ritchie. The team’s first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes was a smashing success. The Bruins ended the series in five games. Ritchie would only suit up for two of those games. Boston really wanted him in the lineup for what was anticipated to be a gritty matchup between bitter rivals in the Tampa Bay Lightning. They got just that. Ritchie was nearly invisible offensively, tallying just one goal in the second game. Otherwise, he was only seen delivering hits. While this was his primary duty, he took it too far. He was assessed two minor penalties in the first and third games of the series.
The Final Nail in the Coffin
The fourth of the five games would be the last time Ritchie saw the ice that postseason. He amassed a whopping 12 penalty minutes. One of his penalties was a five-minute major after a boarding call on Tampa’s Yanni Gourde. That powerplay allowed them to go up 3-0 late in the second period and in all likelihood, put the game out of reach for the Bruins. Boston would go down 3-1 in the series after this game, and lose the series in five games. This incident led to Cassidy scratching Ritchie for the fifth game and many fans calling for his contract to be bought out or traded during the offseason.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 29, 2020
This offseason did not bring promise for Nick Ritchie. The Bruins signed another wing in Craig Smith. While they play opposite sides, this alluded to Ritchie falling further down the depth chart. There simply was not enough room for him to be any higher than the third line going into the season. Boston also had young players looking to get into the lineup. Jack Studnicka figured to be a regular this season after posting impressive numbers with Providence. Trent Frederic was a possibility to crack the lineup as well. Ritchie’s playoff woes did him no favours with Bruce Cassidy and he would have to prove he could be an integral part of the roster. Surgery for David Pastrnak gave him an opportunity to capitalize upon.
This season, Nick Ritchie has turned around the entire outlook on his time in Boston. He went from a player who could do nothing right to one who can do no wrong. As a player with substantial size, Ritchie is capable of bringing a large presence to the front of the net. He has used his size to his advantage and as a result, he is currently fourth on the team in points with nine in 11 games. Seven of his nine have come on the powerplay. Pastrnak’s recovery from surgery left an opening on the powerplay. Ritchie capitalized on the opportunity and has shown why he was the 10th overall draft selection in 2014.
Ritchie has scored four goals this season, all on the powerplay. It has been his ability to get to the front of the net that has allowed him to be so productive. Deflections and goalie screens that he has created have allowed the Bruins’ powerplay to operate as if they still had all of their weapons available. Even with Pastrnak returning to the lineup, Ritchie has remained on the top powerplay unit. As Boston’s best big-bodied net-front presence, he has transformed his role from expendable to essential. His size is an asset that the Bruins were lacking. Now that they have Ritchie performing at a high level, this team is more dangerous than ever.
Penalties have been a concern of Ritchies game in the past as well. For much of his career, he has averaged roughly just over a penalty minute per game. In the 11 he has played in Boston this season, he only has four. The Bruins need him to continue to play that disciplined game. With the schedule including many back to back games against bitter rivals this season, they need him to remain calm and poised. Ritchie has found redemption for last year’s postseason mistakes, but he has also become a key cog of the winning machine Boston has created. His turnaround is incredible and the Bruins are lucky to have him.
What Lies Ahead
Nick Ritchie is in the final year of a contract that paid him just shy of $1.5 million per year. The 25-year old is also a restricted free agent when the season expires. If Ritchie continues on this trend, the Bruins should look to resign him. While his near point per game pace is unlikely to continue for the entire season, he has shown that he is deserving of a new deal. One year of high-level production should not earn him a long extension, but a two or three-year deal is in the cards.
Over his six-year NHL career, Nick Ritchie has shown flashes of what made him a top draft pick. But he has never been able to put it all together and become an elite player the Ducks hoped he would become. Now after a rocky start with Boston, he has seemingly revamped a career that appeared destined for mediocrity. His current level of success is likely unsustainable. If he can manage to continue to play even half as well as he has thus far, Ritchie can continue to be one of Boston’s best offensive weapons that has been flying under the radar.