The Globe will take a closer look at the Bruins players who will likely be exposed in the July 21 NHL expansion draft in a three-part series. Part 3: left wing Nick Ritchie and defenseman Jakub Zboril.
One of the surprises of this past season, Ritchie found his game in his first full year as a Bruin.
But Ritchie might not be long for Boston, his home these last 17 months.
The 25-year-old restricted free agent may not have earned a protection slot in the expansion draft. If the Bruins protect seven forwards, as they are likely to do, Ritchie would be up against Jake DeBrusk and Trent Frederic to earn one of the final two berths after must-protect players Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, and Craig Smith.
If Ritchie is left exposed, it wouldn’t be solely on player quality. His breakout season as an RFA may make him too rich for the Bruins’ blood.
How he got here: Ritchie, acquired for Danton Heinen at the February 2020 trade deadline, was the 10th pick in the 2014 draft (15 slots ahead of Pastrnak). He spent five seasons in Anaheim, showing flashes of becoming a budding top-six power forward. He never surpassed 14 goals or 31 points in his time with the Ducks, leading them to swap one underwhelming young winger for another. Ritchie’s entry into Boston lasted seven games before the pandemic, and he looked sluggish during last summer’s restart, making it an open question if he would be a fit. But he found a home on the third line, and before he was demoted to the second unit played the net-front on the first-unit power play.
Scouting report: On display during Ritchie’s emergence this past season: a surprisingly crafty sense for short-area passes and work around the goal, plus a decent set of hands in tight. He isn’t a long-range shooter or playmaker, but he can work off more skilled centers during the rush and chip in his share of goals and assists. Asking him to carry a heavy load defensively is asking for trouble. He doesn’t kill penalties and won’t be out there late in games. He is a big man — 6 feet 2 inches and 230 pounds — and while his size helps him hang on to pucks and create space, it doesn’t help him get around the ice quickly.
By the numbers: Set career highs in goals (15) and power-play goals (five) . . . Was the only Bruin to appear in all 56 games . . . Could come close to doubling his cap hit ($1,498,925) this offseason . . . Tied for second among Bruins in postseason assists at five on five (three) . . . Did not score on 13 shots in the playoffs . . . Led the Bruins’ forward crew in hits (102) during the regular season, and was third in the playoffs . . . During the regular season, only Bergeron (29) had more high-danger shot attempts on the power play than Ritchie (26). He scored on 18.5 percent of his PP shots.
Chance Seattle takes him: Low. Ritchie is due for a raise that may take him from “not a bad bargain” to “wish he was making a little less.” His qualifying offer would be $2 million, and he is also eligible for arbitration. With the cap ceiling staying the same ($81.5 million), the Kraken could look elsewhere.
What it could mean for the Bruins: If Ritchie is taken, the resulting shifts could put DeBrusk in his natural left wing spot on the third line, and create room for Jack Studnicka to join the group as a right wing or center (depending where Coyle plays). The Bruins would need a bit more beef in the forward group. Frederic, come on down.
The Bruins’ brass has a stated need for a minutes-eating, 200-foot, left-shot defender. At this stage in his development, Zboril checks only the third box.
The 13th overall pick in 2015 has not arrived yet as an NHL defenseman, four years into his pro career, and stands as one of the players the Bruins will expose to Seattle.
One of three young defensemen getting an opportunity to fill the left-side openings vacated by Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, the 24-year-old submitted an uninspiring mix of steady games and short-leash nights — more of the latter than the former. He ended the season on the shelf. Had he popped, the Bruins likely wouldn’t have looked to the trade market (Mike Reilly) or waiver wire (Jarred Tinordi) for left-side help.
But is Zboril’s deliberate development an obvious sign he’ll never make it, or just a reminder that more patience is needed with young players, the majority of whom do not enter the NHL guns blazing?
The Kraken might be the team to answer that question.
How he got here: After a solid debut season in the QMJHL as an 18-year-old (33 points in 44 games for Saint John), the favorite son of Brno, Czech Republic, was one of three first-rounders in Don Sweeney’s first draft as Bruins general manager.
Zboril spent two more years in the “Q” and was one of his country’s key players at the World Juniors. In three seasons in Providence, he produced 19 points every year. Slow, but steady, and ready for the NHL? The departures of Chara and Krug spurred the Bruins to find out.
Zboril played in 42 games this past season (0-9—9), missing a handful because of injuries. Sweeney revealed after the season that his defense corps had eight concussions, and it’s likely Zboril was among them. He took a heavy hit in the regular-season finale against the Capitals and left with an upper-body injury. He did not participate in the playoffs.
Scouting report: Zboril was seen as a do-it-all defenseman with no holes in his game. It remains to be seen how that translates to the NHL. He has league-ready size (6 feet, 200 pounds) and is a powerful, quick skater. His shot is hard, but he struggled this past season to get it through traffic, leading to breaks the other way. He is willing to play the body, which was one of the factors that caused his draft-year rise. Size, skating, shot, and a few loud bodychecks added up to a mid-first-round profile.
As a pro, Zboril has not shown high-end awareness in any zone. His offensive game lacks creativity. He doesn’t always see anything other than the simple outlets, and even then, doesn’t always make the right read. He can be exposed in his end by smart forecheckers and playmakers. He can play in the league, but barring a leap in his second NHL season, he’s on track to be a complementary piece, not a top-four rock, or a power-play quarterback.
By the numbers: Has one year left on an entry-level deal ($725,000) . . . Saw scant time (about 30 seconds per game) on the power play and penalty kill . . . Did not score on 35 shots . . . Of his 82 shot attempts, 51 were unblocked. That 62 percent rate was lowest among the team’s defensemen (by comparison, Matt Grzelcyk led the regulars with a 76 percent unblocked rate, and 72 percent was the unit’s average) . . . Bruins were outscored, 23-22, when he was on the ice (15-10 in goals from the slot and net-front) . . . Coaches see him as an offensive player at this stage; he was on the ice for faceoffs in the offensive zone 58 percent of the time . . . Drew eight penalties, third behind Charlie McAvoy (10) and Jeremy Lauzon (nine) . . . Credited with six takeaways against 14 giveaways . . . Junior teammate Thomas Chabot was drafted five spots behind him and is an $8 million player wearing an “A” in Ottawa.
Chance Seattle takes him: Moderate. A vote from Zboril’s coach in Providence, new Kraken assistant Jay Leach, could help. Reviewing Zboril’s season in May 2020, Leach said he grew into the AHL Bruins’ best overall backliner. “His ability to move the puck cleanly,” Leach said, “there’s not many who can do it at our level.”
What it could mean for the Bruins: Other left-side prospects — Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Ahcan — get more of a shot, and one of the reminders of the ill-fated 2015 draft goes out of sight, out of mind.