Patience has been the name of the game with Nick Ritchie, and the Boston Bruins are starting to reap the benefits.
Swapped for Danton Heinen last February in a 1-for-1 trade with the Anaheim Ducks, the Bruins brought Ritchie in to provide some sandpaper with offensive upside.
His first run with the Bruins didn’t go as planned. Boston couldn’t find the right fit for him in the lineup, and he bounced around in a few regular season games and in the bubble before ultimately getting healthy scratched late in the B’s stay in Toronto.
This season has been a different story.
Ritchie has shown some creativity with the puck, feathering nice passes in the offensive zone while wreaking havoc in front of the net. He got a goal on Opening Night, and through three games has the highest expected goals for on the Bruins while posting the second lowest expected goals against.
So, yes, it’s taken a little time. But things are heading in the right direction.
“A little more confidence, assertiveness (this season),” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Thursday, over Zoom. “He came in late in the year (to a) good hockey team, we’re trying to figure out where he best fits, pause happens, no one is really sure what’s going on, so I don’t know if he felt truly invested in the Bruins yet because he hadn’t spent much time with us. … Just a lot of things didn’t go well for him.
“Now we come into the year, and he’s a guy that we knew had upside to be a net presence. He’s got good hands, I mean he was a first round pick, there’s some talent there, some hockey sense. And we just tried to find the best hockey spot for him and had a talk with him about what the expectations were and what he could bring, and it’s worked out.”
Not only is Ritchie doing this while playing on a few different lines — he’ll be on the second line with David Krejci and Jack Studnicka against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday — but he’s seeing meaningful time on the power play.
It’s in that role that he’s been most disruptive to the opposition, serving as the net-front presence on the top power-play unit with Matt Grzelcyk, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci.
“Yeah I think he does (have a sneaky skill level),” Marchand said. “He seems to be really good down around the net. He’s obviously really big, strong guy and good recovering pucks. But he seems to be really good at making plays from the goal line. He has good vision and he’s kind of been all around the net and the puck and he’s had a lot of opportunities so far, so I think he’s going to be good there.”
Added Bergeron: “I think he’s one of those guys that when he has the puck, he’s trying to make a play. He’s trying to find you and he has his head up. He’s found me a few times in the middle, in the slot on the power play. He’s found Krejci and other guys, he’s a big body and he’s good at getting the puck back and retrieving it, but also getting open and finding a way to score and whatnot. So he’s been really good. Going to continue to talk and communicate and create some more chemistry so we’re on the same page.”
At this time of year, everything has to include the “small sample size” caveat. But, hey, whether you value analytics or the eye test: Ritchie has looked good so far this season.