Throw out Jamie Benn for a moment. Not literally, he’s large and angry, but hypothetically, discard the Captain’s near point-per-game pace (30 points in 34 games) and general all-world leadership. Doing so would leave Antoine Roussel (7 goals, 9 assists) as the Stars’ leading point-getter from the flanks. Behind him: Shawn Horcoff (13 points), Erik Cole (12 points), Ryan Garbutt (2 suspensions), and Ales Hemsky (10 points). Yes, I know positions are somewhat fungible (Tyler Seguin does not always play center), but I think the larger point is a solid one: the Dallas Stars sure could use a little more offense from their wingers.
Now, what would you say if I told you Brett Ritchie just finished an 11-point December? The young winger, who is 6’3" and 220 pounds by the way, unwrapped eight goals and three assists over everyone else’s holiday break. That’s exciting, right? It becomes downright thrilling when you remember Britches also dropped 48 points in 68 games during his first full AHL season and another 11 in the 13 games he played during Texas' ride to the Calder Cup. So long as he and Cody Eakin can come to a formal agreement on who gets to wear #20, there’s really no reasonable barrier to him joining the big club.
Except this isn’t an article about why Brett Ritchie belongs on the Dallas Stars.
Perhaps murdering the bit, what would you say if I told you Brett Ritchie went six games without a goal in December, and went four games between points? All of this after a barren October/November stretch during which Ritchie managed three goals in 12 games. Without last weekend’s five-goal explosion, it’s fair to wonder if we would be worrying about the kid instead of lauding him.
Injuries have been part of the problem. Ritchie broke a finger during the Traverse City Tournament and has struggled with a few minor maladies since. Roster turnover has been another issue. Dallas call-ups this season read like a who’s who of the defending Calder Cup Champs: Travis Morin, Colton Sceviour, Patrick Nemeth, John Klingberg, Curtis McKenzie, Jamie Oleksiak, etc. In other words, there have been fewer weapons around Ritchie, and at times, it seems to have slowed the young winger down.
In retrospect, a transcendent Calder Cup run (7 goals, 4 assists in 13 games) has come to mask a regular season much better classified as Encouraging than Exceptional. Very encouraging, mind you - Ritchie managed at least five points during every single month of the season – but prior to his end of season explosion, Ritchie only approached a full point-per-game during an injury-shortened January.
Given his pedigree and physical profile, impatience is understandable. Here is a kid who looks like he could help right now. For me, it comes down to what the Stars want, ultimately, out of Brett Ritchie. Is he a complimentary piece, or is he a bona fide difference maker? He spent 2013 being the former beneath Morin, McKenzie and Sceviour. Now, he’s getting his chance to be the latter.
That’s a good thing for the Dallas Stars. This is the perfect time for Ritchie to struggle against good AHL teams dead-set on shutting him down. They need him having those experiences more than they need him sharing minutes with Cole and company at the lower reaches of the NHL ladder. Another torrid month might change the situation, but for now, the best thing the Stars can do with Brett Ritchie is wait.