Will Nick Ritchie Replace Zach Hyman on the Toronto Maple Leafs?

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) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking for someone to replace Zach Hyman on the left wing with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

For this reason, this year’s Toronto Maple Leafs training camp looks to be more interesting that it has been in recent years.   Nick Ritchie will be looking to win a job (and perhaps a top line role) along with Michael Bunting, Josh Ho Sang,  Ondrej Kase, Kurtis Gabriel, and David Kampf.

Those six players will be in competition with young Leafs such as Nick Robertson and Adam Brooks for the same jobs.  And, if Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Pierre Engval, Ilya MIkheyev and Alex Kerfoot all return to their former roles, there are only three jobs available.

Two if you consider that David Kampf is a near-lock to be the third line centre.

So how does Nick Ritchie fit in?  A lot of people have already designated him as Hyman’s replacement, but how likely is that?

Toronto Maple Leafs and Nick Ritchie

First, the positive:  Ritchie brings a physical element that the Leafs need, which should give him a leg up on a job.  He has also been a positive expected-goal player in every year he’s played except his rookie season.   And, he seems to have been constantly improving as a player since he broke in.  (stats from naturalstattrick.com).

On the negative side, he takes way too many penalties and has one of the worst penalty impacts in the league.  And he’s never scored above the role of a third liner, despite mostly playing with better players than he faces.

These negatives aren’t really too negative though, because if he did secure a top line role with the Leafs, he’d be playing with two superstars, and his scoring rates would be sure to climb.  Secondly, if the Leafs have a player who takes too many stupid penalties, that actually might help them get on the power-play more based on how the NHL calls games.

The problem with Ritchie is that he’s an average defensive player who doesn’t score that much.  If he gets into a groove and plays a very specific role – power forward on the top line – I think he can really help the team.

But if Bunting or Robertson beat him out for one of the plumb jobs on the top two lines, suddenly you’ve got a guy who can’t defend well enough to be part of a “shut down line” and a very expensive bottom-six player.  He can still be an effective third liner – he’s a solid depth piece – but he isn’t beating out Kerfoot or Kampf or Mikheyev for a job as a defensive specialist.

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Like all the Leafs signings this summer there is a ton of upside and hardly any risk.  For two years at $2.5 the Leafs can probably trade or waive him easily, or else burry him in the minors.  Potentially, he could fill the role of Zach Hyman for the exact same price.