The Toronto Maple Leafs made news early this morning, adding 25-year old winger Nick Ritchie to a two-year contract. The deal carries a cap hit of $2.5 million.
Ritchie spent last season with the Boston Bruins, where he added 15 goals and 11 assists in 56 games. A physical player who is certainly not afraid to drop the gloves, the former Duck was primarily used on Boston’s second line with David Krejci. Given Toronto’s current lack of depth on the left side, you can expect him to start the season in his team’s top six.
The Ritchie signing comes just one day after the Leafs signed winger Ondrej Kase to a one-year deal. The two played together for parts of four seasons in Anaheim, where Ritchie was Kase’s primary linemate back in the 2018-19 season. They were briefly separated when Kase was traded to Boston in February of 2020, but Ritchie ended up also getting traded to the Bruins in a separate trade just three days later. This time around, it took less than 24 hours for them to reunite.
Ritchie hit the free-agent market after the Bruins decided not to offer him a qualifying offer, which came as a bit of a surprise. Leafs fans will remember him from back in the 2014 draft, where he was linked to Toronto throughout the draft process and ended up selected two picks after William Nylander. He was traded to Sheldon Keefe’s Soo Greyhounds ahead of the 2015 OHL Playoffs, though Kyle Dubas was already with the Leafs at that time.
While he won’t be the zone entry specialist on his line, he’ll be able to get to the net and bring some physicality to the lineup. The hope is likely that he can score around 0.5 points per game, though he’s had some issues scoring in the playoffs with just nine points in 38 career games. He can play a net-front role on Toronto’s power play, and he’s graded out as a fine play driver by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM over the past three seasons.
Ritchie is a solid middle six winger who will test Toronto's penalty killing efficiency greatly this season. pic.twitter.com/fzirZZDGtP
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) July 31, 2021
He’s listed at 6’2, 230 lbs by NHL.com, and he’s certainly not afraid to throw a big hit. His fight card included recent Leafs signing Kurtis Gabriel, and former Leafs Zach Bogosian and Kyle Clifford. He’s also from Orangeville, so he’ll get a chance to play for his hometown team.
Given his $2.5 million cap hit, you can probably expect this to be one of the final moves of Toronto’s offseason. Trading someone like Morgan Rielly or Alex Kerfoot could change that, but as of right now, it doesn’t look like there’s room for more additions. My guess is that Ritchie will play with one of Matthews or Tavares, with Michael Bunting potentially earning a spot on the other top-six line.