Brett Ritchie played in 31 games for the Dallas Stars last season, his rookie year, scoring six goals and three assists. What his scoring numbers do not truly reflect is the impact Ritchie had in the bottom six of the Stars forward lineup.
Ritchie brought spark to the bottom six, putting an average of 2.5 shots per game on goal in limited minutes. He put up positive Corsi numbers with a 55.7 CF%. That positive possession was pivotal to several big goals by the first line down the stretch last season. Ritchie and his linemates would spend a lot of time cycling in the offensive zone, putting up shots on goal and wearing down the opposition so that when the first line got onto the ice they were playing against a tired defense.
There is no question that Ritchie has some things he could work on at the NHL level, but he did not look out of place last season either. What the Stars face this year during training camp is the question of what is best for Ritchie's development.
At just 22, Ritchie is still a young forward. He should be playing big minutes to develop his game for the NHL level. The acquisition of Patrick Sharp and the return of Valeri Nichushkin to the lineup this season gives the Stars plenty of players that project in the top six before you get to Ritchie. It is a good problem to have, as injuries are bound to happen.
With just a little over $2 million in salary cap space, Ritchie on a waiver-exempt contract and that crowded top of the NHL roster, Ritchie could start the season as a big part of the Texas Stars roster to help give Dallas ultimate flexibility for the cap and give the team time to figure out the situation on defense as they carry eight on the blueline.
Ritchie is assuredly the first injury call-up and would likely slot into the bottom six while providing flexibility for a top six option should the need arise. I don't think anyone should view Ritchie starting in the AHL as a step back, as the more he plays, the better he will be at two-way play.
However, it wouldn't be surprising if he did start as a consistent bottom six winger in Dallas if he pushes in camp. With the subtraction of Ryan Garbutt, Ritchie could fit nicely with Antoine Roussel and Cody Eakin to give the team a possession-driven third line and add some scoring punch on a team that is expected to be potent on the goal sheet.