Toronto Maple Leafs Would Have To Be Idiots to Give Up on Nick Ritche

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 controversially passed on Nick Ritchie in 2014 and drafted William Nylander instead.

Though many of us (supposedly) more enlightened fans mocked the Nylander haters for years (and it turned out that we were right) the Toronto Maple Leafs fans who longed for Nick Ritchie finally got their wish this summer when the team signed the former first-rounder to a two year contract.

Now, the Nick Ritchie who the Leafs ultimately signed and the 18 year old that people wanted them to draft seven years ago are not the same player.  While Nylander proved to be the correct choice (and should have went second overall after Leon Draisaitl) the Leafs saw some potential in Nick Ritchie that made them want to sign him.

That potential is still there, even if he’s had a rough start to his Leafs career. (all stats

Toronto Maple Leafs Can’t Give Up on Ritchie Yet

The Leafs are off to a great start this year, they are something approximating the NHL’s best team, and they haven’t been hurt by Ritchie’s slow start.  Still, they can’t wait forever for him to get it going, and the acquisition of Kyle Clifford certainly isn’t doing him any favors.

But, then again, as Treebeard would say: Let’s not be too hasty.

The Leafs didn’t sign Ritchie to play on the fourth line, which is the absolute highest Kyle Clifford is ever going to play.  Clifford is a depth piece, Ritchie can be a difference maker.

The Leafs didn’t take a chance on him because they were expecting instant results.  They saw a player with a rare combination of talent who they thought would give them a ton of value on the dollar if he put it all together.

A power-forward in today’s NHL is essentially a unicorn, and if you have one, it can make a massive difference.  Hyman and Bunting-style players are more the norm, but if you get a big monster like Ritchie scoring at a 30 goal pace, look out.

He started on the first line, but Matthews and Marner were ice-cold.  Matthews didn’t even play the first three games, then he took some time to get his timing back.   The lack of goals sent Ritchie to the fourth line, but he got another opportunity the other night, and he was perfectly fine until he took a stupid slashing penalty that got him benched.

He also put up an 80% puck-possession rating and a 65% expected-goals rating, had one shot, one good scoring chance and a fight, so I wouldn’t exactly say he had a bad game.

Gotta Stick With Ritchie

The Toronto Maple Leafs, with Nick Ritchie on the ice this season: 53% Corsi, 51% of the shots, 51% expected-goals, 55%  of the scoring chances.

It is not Nick Ritchie’s fault that the entire team is shooting under 2% when he’s on the ice.  Did we  learn nothing from Nylaner’s post holdout season? From Marner’s playoffs, the Leafs playoff losses. or Matthews early season “struggles”?

A player’s shooting percentage (or the team’s with him on the ice) is not something he can control, and is subject to massive amounts of variance.  All players , without exception, should be given the benefit of the doubt and not judged harshly when their shooting percentage is very low but their peripheral stats are solid.

I’m not saying Nick Ritchie is going to explode and turn into a superstar. But I don’t know how many times the Leafs, the media that covers them, and their fans have to go through this same stupid cycle of writing-off a player because he goes on a improbable cold streak.

The Leafs risk pretty much nothing by signing Ritchie because the NHL and it’s teams will always want an ex-first rounder with size, an edge and the ability to score.  If the Leafs deem they can use the cap space better,  getting someone to take on Ritchie’s contract is a near certainty.

So there is no risk in keeping him, besides the opportunity cost of his salary cap hit.  At this point, with the team winning, it only makes sense to keep giving him opportunities.  If he turns it around – and the numbers suggest that he will –  they have a dirt-cheap power-forward.  i.e the rarest type of player in the NHL.

And if he doesn’t, they can ditch him three months from now.

dark. Next. List of Potential Leafs Trades

Nick Ritchie has good numbers and a low shooting percentage.  It’s about time people realized that actual goals are about the worst way to judge a player’s short-term performance.  It would be idiotic to give up on this type of player and his potential 17 games into the season.