Can Brett Ritchie regain his scoring touch with Bruins?

Matt Kalman
August 15, 2019 - 3:06 pm

After he signed unrestricted free agent forward Brett Ritchie on July 1, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was quick to lower expectations that Ritchie would be the impact right wing Boston has been shopping for the past couple years.

Sweeney acknowledged that Ritchie scored 16 goals in 2016-17, but his 9.6 shooting percentage may have had something to do with that. Ritchie has scored 11 goals in 124 games the past two seasons while playing for a different coach each year.

“But I do believe we had a vacancy on that side, now we’re hopeful that Brett will come, in recognize the opportunity in front of him, and take advantage of it, playing with potentially with one of three pretty good centers,” Sweeney said, obviously projecting Ritchie to play with either David Krejci, Charlie Coyle or Sean Kuraly.

At $1 million on a one-year contact, the 26-year-old Ritchie is a cheap bet by Sweeney. Even if Ritchie is playing fourth-line minutes, the Bruins could possibly get him back to scoring double-digit goals, the way Chris Wagner (12 goals last season after never scoring more than six in any prior NHL season) or Tim Schaller (12 goals in 2017-18; 12 goals total in his other four NHL seasons) did playing in coach Bruce Cassidy’s system.

“If he’s able to stay healthy and capitalize on his opportunities, he definitely has that ability,” Niagara (OHL) coach Billy Burke recently told WEEI.com. “He’s skilled, he’s underrated with his toughness, he’s not afraid to the go to the net and create space for himself. In terms of his skating, his shot, given the right opportunity, I could see him hitting that double-digit goal mark.”

Burke, now the IceDogs head coach, was an assistant for Ritchie’s two seasons with Niagara. In his fourth season of major junior Ritchie had 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 53 games for the IceDogs.

“You know he was very much a straight-line guy. He used his size and his strength, was able to protect pucks. He had an excellent release. By the time he was in his fourth year in the OHL, he was a lot stronger than a lot of guys and he was able to use his shot quickly and was just able to beat goalies,” Burke recalled. “But again he had good skill, he was able to play with Ryan Strome, who was putting up a ton of points at the time. And also with Dougie Hamilton, who was on the team at the time, another Boston connection. The three of them could really take over games.”

Ritchie goes 6-foot-4, 220 pounds these days.

After one full AHL season with the Texas Stars, he split time between the AHL and NHL teams the next two years. Then he got his big chance in 2016-17 and responded. James Patrick, now the head coach for the Winnipeg Ice (WHL) and a veteran of more than 1,200 NHL games as a defenseman, was a Dallas assistant coach that saw Ritchie possibly exceed expectations that season.

“Work ethic was real good. Big body who could skate. … I think you wondered where he would fit, would he be a third-line guy, could he get to that level because he was a big who skated well? Could chip in a little bit offensively but I think could play in the dirty areas and in front of the net and finish some checks,” Patrick told WEEI.com.

Patrick remembers Ritchie as “coachable” and someone who played a fearless game, characteristics that could help him be the player he was in 2016-17 for Dallas when he pulls on a Bruins sweater.

“I think he can be that type of player. He’s got a shot, he can shoot a puck, he’s a big body, he can skate. He doesn’t plod out there, he can get there. Maybe his initial quickness [isn’t great>, is something that a lot of bigger guys have in common. But he’s got a good stride and he can get moving,” Patrick said.

Whether it’s been Kuraly, Wagner, Schaller, Noel Acciari or Karson Kuhlman, the Bruins have hit on their signing of hard-nosed players that eventually chip in at the offensive end in addition to bringing their physicality and responsible defensive play. Perhaps Ritchie will be the next in line.

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