Nick Ritchie Needs to Play on Toronto Maple Leafs First Line

Nick Ritchie #21 of the Boston Bruins (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Nick Ritchie #21 of the Boston Bruins (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Nick Ritchie may not be a huge name for some Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but he’ll be a fan-favorite before the 2021-22 season is over.

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a brilliant under-the-radar move by acquiring Nick Ritchie in free agency and every fan is going to fall in love with him immediately.

The 6-foot-2, 230 pound, forward from Orangeville, ON not only can score, but he can also hit and fight. Toronto loves their superstars like Auston Matthews, but they love their blue-collar players like Ritchie, even more.

As such, Sheldon Keefe needs to put Ritchie in a role that he’ll excel in. Sure, he could play on the team’s third line providing depth offense and energy, but Toronto already has enough of those players.

If Toronto wants to get every penny out of Ritchie’s contract, they need to play him with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Ritchie Needs to Play on Toronto Maple Leafs 1st Line

If you’re thinking to yourself that it will be impossible for someone to replace Zach Hyman, think again. Ritchie is only 25-years-old and will be 26 when the season is finished. When Hyman was 26-years-old, he scored a career-high (at the time) 15 goals in 82 games that season.

Ritchie, scored 15 goals in 56 games last year, which would be a 22-goal pace in an 82-game regular season.

Ritchie also averaged 15:22 TOI (stats:, compared to Hyman’s 17:21 TOI during his 15-goal campaign , so not only did he score the same amount of goals in 26 fewer games, but did it while playing two less minutes per night.

As Hyman’s ice time increased to 19 minutes per night, he was also given the opportunity to play with two of either Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and/or William Nylander every night. As such, his production increased substantially.

Although he hasn’t able to play a full 82-game season due to the pandemic, Hyman was on a 30-goal pace for the past two years.

Obviously you have to have some skill to score that many goals, but you could make a good argument that a lot of it had to do with the increased minutes and the players he played with.

As a result, there’s no reason to believe that Ritchie can’t replicate Hyman’s production, or at least come very close to it. Ritchie’s size gives him a great advantage in the dirty areas and he’s shown during his NHL career that he can score, even in limited minutes.

Not only will Ritchie be a perfect compliment to Matthews and Marner, but he seems very energized to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In an interview with Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, Ritchie talked about what it means to play so close to home.

"“We were all Leaf fans growing up, with it being the closest team to us [in Orangeville]. There was always the bug about the Leafs. Being away from it for a few years, you kind of lose that. But now it’s right back on. I got tons of messages from people. Everyone’s really excited, family and friends,” Ritchie said."

Ritchie also mentioned in that interview that he “didn’t know [he] was going to be an unrestricted free agent.” Therefore, it’s safe to assume that he’ll play with a chip on his shoulder this year to prove Boston wrong.

In addition to that, after seeing the type of money that Hyman made playing beside Matthews and Marner, Ritchie is probably hoping that he can turn his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs into a huge payday very soon too.

If another player shows up to training camp and takes the spot away from him, so be it, but for the time being, Ritchie deserves to play a Zach Hyman type of role with Toronto and reap the rewards of playing beside Matthews and Marner.

Next. 3 Left Wingers Leafs Should Sign. dark

Mark my words. If he gets a regular role on the first line beside Toronto’s dynamic duo, Ritchie will score 30 goals this year.