Where Is Nick Ritchie’s spot in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup?

Nick Ritchie, Boston Bruins (Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
Nick Ritchie, Boston Bruins (Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Nick Ritchie joins the Toronto Maple Leafs fighting for a top role on the team.

The Toronto Maple Leafs got caught in another sticky situation this offseason. General manager Kyle Dubas needed to sign a goaltender and forwards to fill the many holes in their depth chart but didn’t have much money to do it.

Among the many new names to the team is left winger Nick Ritchie. He is a former first-rounder from the 2014 NHL Draft and has yet to meet the expectations for a tenth overall selection.

In his seven years in the NHL, he only eclipsed 0.5 points per game once. Considering Toronto’s forwards, that will likely increase.

His offensive output is not something eye-catching, but his style of play is. According to Evolving Hockey, he hit opposing players 43 more times than he got hit. His 230 pounds punish the opposition through hits and by making plays in front of the net.

Ritchie is not the best at forcing turnovers, but he also doesn’t give away the puck. He is relatively conservative both ways. His analytics show he is a solid player, owning a goals differential per 60 minutes of -0.06, a 7.84 Fenwick, and 8.41 Corsi.

Ironically, he has a higher Fenwick and Corsi than Zach Hyman, the workhorse that the Leafs lost this past offseason. Though Hyman runs away with a much higher goals differential per 60 minutes with 1.66.

Overall, it looks like Nick Ritchie is a third-line player but has upside as a physical forward with a goal-scoring touch. Isn’t that what the Leafs needed? Physicality with a scoring touch?

Which line will Nick Ritchie have the biggest impact on?

The left-wing slots on the first, second, and third lines are up for grabs. Two forwards in Nick Robertson and Ondrej Kase lead the way skill-wise.

With head coach Sheldon Keefe and Dubas at the helm, Toronto favors skilled players. With that in mind, it looks like Ritchie will start the season on the third line’s left-wing.

Some aren’t sure about the readiness of Robertson, which would open up a spot in the top-six if the team’s top prospect spends the beginning of the season in the AHL. If that’s the case, then Ritchie should fill in for his spot.

The only other possibility is if Alex Kerfoot shifts to the wing. The issue with that is you’re then relying on either David Kampf or Jason Spezza to center the third line.

Spezza proved he has the skill to take that spot, but concerns regarding his stamina and keeping him fresh could prevent it from happening. Kampf doesn’t offer much offensively but is solid when taking faceoffs and defensively. Of the two, Spezza deserves the spot.

Because of that, Kerfoot should remain as the third-line center, meaning Ritchie is in line to be the second or third-line left-winger. That is best-suited for his game anyway.

Ritchie is a third-line winger with top-six upside as a role player

Nick Ritchie’s offensive positioning and his underrated shot will help either of the top two lines after they failed to score in the playoffs. His physical presence will keep the opposition thinking twice before making a dirty play.

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Hopefully, he will be a better Wayne Simmonds for the Toronto Maple Leafs. When was the last time there was a checking forward that can score for Toronto? It’s been too long. Nick Ritchie can be that guy for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their top nine.