Joseph
Aleong
June 13, 2023

Deep Dive: Calum Ritchie an intriguing option for the 2023 NHL Draft

Calum Ritchie has been a well-known name since he was in minor hockey, landing with the Oshawa Generals with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection. His OHL career couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start, making the league’s First All-Rookie team in his first season while playing an important role for a competitive squad in Oshawa.

With his prior history and potential, Ritchie was considered one of the top prospects in the 2023 NHL Draft from the OHL. He only added fuel to that growing fire with a stellar performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last August, leading the tournament in scoring while also helping Canada to their first gold medal since 2019.

However, he failed to capitalize on that wave of momentum considering how high expectations were heading into the season, never consistently showing the dominance needed to establish himself as the top OHL draft-eligible skater. This culminated in his season ending in a disappointing first-round exit for the Generals while playing through a nagging shoulder injury — despite still notching six points (two goals, four assists) in five games.

Ritchie, who had 59 points (24 goals, 35 assists) in 59 regular-season games, was able to push his name to the forefront of the draft picture once again at the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 World Championship, proving himself as one of Canada’s most dynamic forwards despite an up-and-down tournament for the team, culminating in a bronze medal.

He’s considered one of the top forwards out of the OHL this year and was slotted No. 26 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2023 draft.

PUCK SKILLS

Ritchie’s offensive game is highlighted by his strong puckhandling skills. His long reach and big frame allow him to protect the puck well against tight-checking opponents and he shows the ability to make moves with the puck in his hip pocket, making him a dual threat to shoot or pass in the offensive zone.

Ritchie also has the ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations, making him a threat off the rush despite his current lack of top-end acceleration.

In the below clip, Ritchie caps off an impressive deke at high speed with nice hands in tight to the net for a rush goal, highlighting that skill:

While he has the ability to beat defenders in open ice, Ritchie is at his best when creating offense inside the offensive end. He shows impressive poise against physical pressure, using his feet and puck skills in tight areas to beat his defender off the wall and maintain possession of the puck through traffic on cycle plays.

Ritchie’s vision is also apparent on rush chances, showing great patience with the puck at high speed. He uses his hands and vision to draw defenders out of passing lanes and make passes through traffic to set up short-area odd man chances for his team.

His vision and puckhandling ability are what set up this goal:

Ritchie makes a defender miss with a beautiful deke before holding the puck long enough to draw the goaltender and the backchecking #20 white over towards him, creating an easy back door tap-in for his linemate with a simple backhand pass.

While his poise can create great looks for his linemates, Ritchie also has the vision to thread tough passes through traffic and create something out of nothing.

In this below clip, Ritchie creates a high-danger scoring chance off of an innocuous zone entry by making a tough backhand saucer pass, against the grain, that lands right on the tape of a teammate in space:

While he is still primarily a pass-first player, Ritchie has a powerful, quick shot and has the quick hands to maneuver the angle of his release to find lanes through traffic.

His heavy release can be especially dangerous when he has time to set his feet and pull the puck into the home plate area:

Ritchie’s puckhandling abilities are above-average for a player of his size, but he could benefit from showing more decisiveness, as he tends to hold on to the puck for too long at times, passing up good shooting opportunities or allowing the goaltender time to square up to his shots.

His quick hands and ability to control the puck close to his body make him a threat around the goal-mouth area, showing some potential as a net-front presence with the vision to make plays from below the goal line.

The following sequence shows a few of Ritchie’s offensive tools in one offensive possession:

Ritchie follows up and grabs a loose puck after being stopped on a breakaway chance, protecting it from an oncoming hit. After keeping the play alive, Ritchie then finds an open space next to the net to receive a pass and makes a skilled play to pull the puck to his forehand.

This is an area of improvement that can help Ritchie carve out an NHL role, by creating more direct chances off the cycle and by using his size and stickhandling ability to finish more plays in the low slot area.

SKATING ABILITY

Ritchie’s large wingspan and upper-body strength help him ward off opposing defenders in the offensive zone, but he also has enough open-ice speed to make an impact in rush situations and the quickness to lose checkers in tight spaces.

Ritchie’s open-ice speed allows him to chase down a puck on the forecheck in this clip:

After winning possession, Ritchie’s quick edges and strength on his feet allow him to beat a trap along the boards and hold possession among two opposing players.

His edges and agility in tight spaces are what allow Ritchie to gain separation from his checks in cycle situations on offense. His size and quickness help Ritchie gain inside positioning on defenders and access the middle lane of the ice, where he can utilize his hands and stickwork in the slot.

Ritchie’s stride extension isn’t ideal, losing him some top-end speed when he gets an opportunity to accelerate in open ice. His speed can be exposed on rush chances, leading to plays where he’s behind the play and not establishing body position on defense like the one below:

His stride power is an important development in Ritchie’s path to becoming a scoring line player at the professional level, as his middling acceleration and lack of separation limited him at times against junior opponents; he will need even more burst in his skating to consistently create offensive chances in the NHL.

HOCKEY IQ

Ritchie’s tenacity and active stick on the forecheck creates plenty of turnovers and disrupted breakout plays, allowing him to create offense from below the goal line by taking advantage of defensive breakdowns.

He shows great aggressiveness here, hunting down the puck in the offensive zone without support:

Ritchie recovers the puck off of turnovers multiple times, disrupting Switzerland #27 and #28 below the goal line and trying to funnel the puck towards the front of the net to an open teammate.

Away from the puck in the offensive end, Ritchie positions himself well to receive passes and does a good job drawing defenders out of position in order to set up shooting chances before making a pass.

Here, Ritchie sees Teammate #67 about to recover a blocked shot, so he gives him an easy passing option along the wall. Seeing an open teammate in the slot, he takes a couple of steps towards the corner to draw the Ottawa defender out of position before capitalizing with a great pass for the assist.

Ritchie’s ability to see plays developing on offense and position himself to give his linemates easy, short plays helps his team consistently extend offensive possessions.

Inside the defensive end, Ritchie shows promising defensive instincts as a center and supports his defenders well away from the puck. He uses his frame to bump opponents off the puck and positions himself well to protect the home plate area when his defensemen are battling in the corners.

Here, Ritchie wins possession and starts a breakout play with good defensive work checking #19 red:

Ritchie takes out his check with a physical play along the boards, then sprints into open space afterwards to create an easy outlet pass for #19 white behind the net and an easy zone exit for Oshawa.

It is his consistent positioning and strong awareness at both ends that make Ritchie feel like a safe bet to remain at centre as a professional. He has the potential to become a more dangerous and consistent scorer than he’s shown in the OHL thus far thanks to his combination of off-puck positioning and abilities with the puck.

Ritchie’s high-level hockey IQ is especially apparent when playing a support role with elite peers and consistently steps up his level of play in big games, both internationally and in the OHL.

AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT

Ritchie has smooth, quick strides for a big-bodied player, generating plenty of open-ice speed when he has room to accelerate. His stride power and explosiveness is hindered by his stride length, allowing some room for improvement in his top-end speed.

Here, his acceleration prevents him from gaining space from the backcheck in transition and causes him to force a pass to the middle of the ice, leading to a counterattack opportunity for Czechia:

Ritchie is still prone to passing up strong shooting opportunities, trying to force passes to the middle lane or through traffic, leading to turnovers and counter opportunities for the other team.

He has the frame and skill to get to dangerous spots in the offensive zone at will, but Ritchie mostly utilizes curl backs or quick stops to create space for himself upon entering the zone instead of playing with pace and taking the puck to the net.

Ritchie isn’t afraid to use his size and strength to win board battles at both ends of the ice, using his frame to box opponents out of the play. However, Ritchie’s skill in tight areas could lead to more conversions close to the net if he were to utilize his strength and show more aggressiveness around the blue paint.

PROJECTION

Ritchie’s draft stock has remained relatively strong all season despite a slightly-above average scoring rate for an OHL prospect of his pedigree thanks to his combination of size and skill.

While he played at a point-per-game pace for a strong Generals team, Ritchie was really able to elevate his game against peers at the Under-18s for Canada, helping lead them to a bronze with a strong nine-point showing. The impressive finish to the season was enough to bump Ritchie back up to No. 13 among Central Scouting’s North American skaters after falling to No. 17 in the midseason edition, potentially securing Ritchie’s status as a first-round selection in the 2023 draft.

He shows flashes of impressive awareness, quick decision-making, and physical prowess at both ends of the ice, leaving an impression that he can potentially fill a top-six role as a center in the NHL in a few years’ time.

However, due to some of the developing aspects of his game, including his skating stride and getting to the inside lane on offense consistently, Ritchie is a safer bet to break into an NHL lineup as a versatile bottom-six forward with some flashes of skill on special teams and scoring touch around the net.


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