A season-long struggle with injuries took its toll on the Dallas Stars in 2016-17, but one of the few silver linings of the challenging situation is that it allowed the Stars the chance to get a better, more thorough look at some of the top young players in the organization. One of these players is 23 year-old right wing Brett Ritchie.
After two seasons that saw Ritchie split time between Dallas and the team’s AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, the 6’3”, 215-pound forward spent the entirety of this past year up in the NHL, playing in a career-high of 78 games. They were a fairly productive 78 games too, as Ritchie picked up 16 goals (3rd most on the team) and eight assists for 24 points.
A big body that is tough to handle down low, his best work comes directly in front of opposing nets, where he is able to find open space either by anticipating the play unfolding around him or by having to fight for it. He has a quick, hard, accurate release on his shot, making him a dangerous presence in the slot area whenever his linemates are able to feed him the puck.
There is still much work to be done, however, with regards to Ritchie’s skating and puck management. While an excellent finisher of chances, he has trouble creating them for himself or for his teammates, as evidenced by his low number of assists. Could stand to improve his ability to separate from his man going up the ice in transition and also when moving the puck around in tight spaces in the offensive zone.
One positive area of Ritchie’s game that didn’t draw much attention this season, but is worth mentioning now, is his play in his own end. He took big steps forward in his defensive responsibilities, starting a large number of his shifts in the defensive zone (3rd most among all Stars forwards that logged 500 minutes or more at even strength) while still maintaining positive possess numbers (50.9 Corsi For percentage on the season). He holds his ice well, knowing where to position himself and which players he is responsible for covering. He was especially effective playing on the same line as defensive specialist Radek Faksa, as the two sported an impressive 54.7 CF% when on the ice together, a duo of young forwards that Dallas could look towards reuniting again next year.
A pending restricted free agent, Ritchie’s rights are still held by the Stars, but he’s in need of a new contract. He’ll likely earn at least a small bump from the $875,000 that he made in 2016-17. The biggest question about his future with Dallas, however, is what happens with the upcoming expansion draft. Ritchie is seemingly a bubble player for the team’s expansion protection list, someone that could get protected but also might not, and is a target that would surely be very enticing for the Vegas Golden Knights as they assemble their first-ever roster
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If he does stay on with the Stars throughout the summer and into next season, Ritchie could continue to develop into a reliable two-way fixture on the roster’s right wing for years to come.