BOSTON — Nick Ritchie will make his Boston Bruins debut Tuesday night, and where he fits in, well that’s kind of up to him.
The Bruins acquired the big forward, brother of Brett, who was demoted to Providence after lackluster play the first few months of the season, in a one-for-one trade with the Anaheim Ducks on Monday. As a result, Danton Heinen now will call Honda Center his home.
While Heinen’s versatility indeed will be missed by the Bruins, Ritchie’s tough brand of hockey that he’s sure to bring is something Heinen was unable to provide at the level Ritchie can.
In Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames, Ritchie will play on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork. Both wingers are left shots so Bjork is going to be shifting to his off side, at least to begin the game.
But following morning skate, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy (unsurprisingly) indicated that Ritchie’s play, good or bad, is going to determine where exactly he finds his home in the lineup.
“He’s got good offensive instincts, showed that in junior,” Cassidy said. “He’ll get an opportunity to play with Coyle (Tuesday). Could be (David) Krejci down the road. If that doesn’t work, then he might drop down. I don’t know, it will be up to kind of him how he fits in.
“We want to put him with a centerman that can get him the puck and create space for him and get him in some offensive opportunities, at least for now, and see where that takes us.”
Ritchie indeed does have some offensive skill, and the analytics show he’s great at creating opportunities, even though he struggles to finish them. Maybe putting him with stronger linemates than he was with in Anaheim will get more out of him in the attacking end, but nonetheless his willingness to get to the net and be strong there will give Bjork and Coyle some offensive freedom.
“He’s obviously played in the league, big-bodied guy,” Cassidy said. “Should be able to contribute with a net-front presence. Has a good shot, better hands than maybe he’s gotten credit for. … Had some discussions with some people in Anaheim, I don’t want to get specific, about what he can bring and his best attributes, and we’ll try to get that out of him. You know, he’s a tough guy. He can certainly take care of that part of the game.”
It’s often been stated, probably overstated, that the Bruins’ lack of sandpaper in their game was a driving force in their loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Wherever he draws into the lineup long term, Ritchie’s self-assessment of his game seems to point toward that void being filled to a degree.
“I play a big game,” Ritchie told Bruins.com’s Eric Russo after Tuesday’s practice. “I drive the net, stay in front of the net, win puck battles along the walls and in the corners, forecheck hard — all those kinds of things that power forwards do, and I’ll bring that here.”