After years of failing to succeed—or even qualify for the playoffs—with a finesse-focused lineup, the 'Canes and new general manger Ron Francis can use the upcoming offseason to add size, strength and physicality back into the Hurricanes' DNA.
The use of the seventh overall pick on 18-year-old forward Nick Ritchie would be a decisive first step.
|Birthplace:||Orangeville, Ontario, Canada|
|Size:||6'2", 226 lbs.|
|2013-14 Team:||Peterborough Petes (OHL)|
|Season||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||Penalty Min.|
Ritchie may be the most physically intimidating prospect in this year's draft. He's tall at 6'2", but far from lanky at 226 pounds.
He's a Tuomo Ruutu-esque, hit-everything-in-sight player, yet he's also willing to take that assertiveness to the crease, where he shows Jiri Tlusty-like opportunism.
Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting breaks down his game:
He's a big, physical, tough guy. When he's playing and using his size and strength he's tough to knock off the puck. He goes to the net hard and has that power-forward mentality that's tough for people to handle. He protects the puck and has an excellent shot off the rush.
Ritchie possesses an intriguing balance of tough body and soft hands that will make him almost a guaranteed top-10 selection come June 27.
Led by Ritchie in 2013-14, Peterborough went just 32-36, but ranked third in the OHL's Eastern Conference in offense. He led the Petes with 74 points, five more than second-placed Hunter Garlent—a 2013 Hurricanes development camp invitee.
It was a convincing bounce-back campaign for Ritchie, who has struggled somewhat with consistency in the past. The winger missed 27 games in 2012-13 with a shoulder injury, and The Scouting Report labeled him as a "mixed bag" with high game-to-game variability.
But there's also more to the Ontario native than scoring. Ritchie is a willing fighter and eager checker, happy to engage himself in scrappy situations.
Such an aggressive playing style does send him to the penalty box more often than the average prospect, but not excessively so. Ritchie's persistent physicality is mostly in pursuit of lit lamps rather than injured opponents.
Todd Cordell of TheHockeyGuys.net elaborates:
Ritchie is your prototypical power forward, and probably the best of his kind this year’s class has to offer. Ritchie is physical, in your face, and never backs down...
He protects the puck well, and embraces battles with opposing team’s top players. He’s strong on the forecheck, and can create chances from along the wall, and in the cycle game.
Among the OHL's top 10 in penalty minutes, Ritchie was the only player on that list to also tally more than 53 points.
In a February interview with Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports, Ritchie noted that he models his game after NHL stars like Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf and Milan Lucic. "Great players who use their body well," he said.
The likenesses between each of the three and Ritchie are indeed evident and have the latter set on a career path that could send him into the NHL as soon as next fall.
Gaining size and physicality will be a top priority in the coming month for Francis, who must soon make decisions on restricted free agents Nathan Gerbe (5'5"), Zach Boychuk (5'10"), Andrei Loktionov (5'11") and Jiri Tlusty (6'0"), among others.
First, however, comes the NHL draft, which will be carried out June 27 and 28 in Philadelphia. The club's seventh overall pick headlines its full portfolio of seven selections. The type of player chosen with it could possibly foreshadow the theme of the entire offseason.
Ritchie would signify a rather predictable but nonetheless much-needed theme: a return to a balance of grit- and finesse-based players.
Which player should the 'Canes select in the first round?
The spring exodus that traded away Carolina's best checker, Tuomo Ruutu, and shot-blocker Tim Gleason yielded little success and eventually cost Jim Rutherford his job. It's up to Francis to rediscover that balance and arguably redefine the Hurricanes' identity after five years sans postseason.
The franchise's unheralded core of young stars—Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Ryan Murphy—is talented, but far from physically intimidating.
Up-and-coming youngsters like Brock McGinn, Brent Pedersen and Brett Pesce offer slightly more in that regard, but only McGinn possesses even remotely as much NHL upside as Ritchie does.
The 'Canes have a perfect opportunity to bolster both their physical and scoring potency with the selection of Ritchie at No. 7 overall.
Free-agent statuses courtesy of CapGeek.com.