Nick Ritchie turned in a season-best line of 2-2—4 on Sunday night in Anaheim’s 6-5 loss to the Golden Knights, then was told to clean out his locker Monday morn upon learning he’d been traded to Boston.
“I don’t know if I expected it,” said Ritchie, swapped to the Bruins in a one-for-one deal that sent Danton Heinen to the Ducks. “But I’m excited now to go to a contender like Boston. “I’m kind of going from all the way out west to all the way to the east. It’s going to be a really good opportunity for me and I’m really excited to get going with them. “
Ritchie, 24, was reached in Southern California for comment minutes prior to getting on an early afternoon flight to Logan Airport. He said he expected to be in Brighton for Tuesday morning’s workout and GM Don Sweeney all but penciled him as Charlie Coyle’s left wing for Tuesday night’s matchup with the Flames at the Garden.
The Bruins had an eye on adding some heft on the wing, specifically around the net, in acquiring the 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound Ritchie. He was a first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2014 draft, projected as a potential NHL power forward.
Ritchie, 24, is the younger brother of Brett Ritchie, 26, who signed with Boston as a free agent last July and was subsequently demoted to AHL Providence.
“Did I get it right . . . did I get the right Ritchie this time?” said Sweeney, in a moment of levity during his afternoon press conference. “We’re hoping. I understand the question completely. We do believe he adds an element to our hockey club that we didn’t have prior to today. There’s some big-bodied hockey that’s going to be played, going forward, and I think he’s a part of that.”
The deal was announced by the Bruins a little more than a hour before the NHL trade deadline was set to expire at 3 p.m. Monday.
Heinen, also 24, struggled again this season to produce consistent offense (7-15—22 in 58 games), the second year in a row the former University of Denver standout was a disappointment in the offensive zone.
Heinen delivered a promising 16-31—47 line in his rookie season of 2017-18 and projected as a core offensive contributor for years to come, only to struggle to put up numbers the past two seasons. He contributed only 18 goals in his 135 games over the past two seasons.
“I’ve got a long history with Danton,” said Sweeney, noting that young forward was upset upon learning word of the trade. “Those are really difficult conversations . . . he knows it’s a great opportunity that lies ahead in Anaheim, and I only wished him the best in that sense.”
Sweeney noted that Heinen had been “down on himself” amid his reduced offensive production.
“But just a tremendous person and a really good hockey player” added Sweeney. “I hope he goes and flourishes there. Whether that’s a reflection I made a bad trade, I don’t care because I only wish the best for him.”
The deal was essentially an extension of the Anaheim-Boston swap Friday that brought Czech right winger Ondrej Kase to Boston for a package that included David Backes, prospect Axel Andersson, and Boston’s first-round pick in the June draft.
Kase practiced with his new team for the first time Monday. He was injured Feb. 7, so it’s possible he will not be in the lineup Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if he’s going to play tomorrow, to be honest with you,” said Cassidy. “I think he’d like to get a few more reps here with us, but . . . that deal is as much for the playoffs and moving forward. So were not worried whether it’s tomorrow, Thursday, or Saturday. We’ll get a look at him.”
Ritchie, with 43 goals in 287 career games, should see regular duty as a second- or third-liner. To start, he’ll likely line up on the No. 3 line with another big body, Coyle, as his center. Coach Bruce Cassidy also would have the option to bump him up to the No. 2 line with David Krejci, then move Jake DeBrusk to Coyle’s left wing.
Ideally, Ritchie will fill the role of power forward, grinding for pucks along the wall, providing presence low in the slot and around the net.
“That’s what I’ve been doing and why I’m playing well,” he said. “That’s what I do, I drive to the net and win puck battles and hopefully can bring in a few wins down and around the net. Hopefully I can help the team here and I’m going to take pride in playing that big game, winning battles, playing physical and driving to the net for sure.”
A knee injury in December has limited Ritchie to 41 games and only 8-11—19 production. He makes just under $1.5 million per season, roughly half of Heinen’s $2.8 million cap hit. Both young forwards are signed through next season.
Ritchie has the body to fill the power forward role and he projected as that kind of performer during his junior days in Ontario, leading to his No. 10 selection in the draft — 15 slots higher than where the Bruins grabbed David Pastrnak, who entered the week as the NHL’s leading goal scorer.
Cassidy spoke to the media prior to the deal being announced.
“If it happens to be a big body like Nick Ritchie, a guy that can get inside, I know we’ve talked about that: ‘Is that a deficiency in our lineup?’ ” said Cassidy. “Against some of the bigger teams. We’ve had those internal discussions.”
Despite owning the best record in the NHL, the Bruins have lacked a legit power forward for years. They were hoping the big-bodied Backes would fill that role when they hired him on as an unrestricted free agent in July 2016, but the veteran ex-Blue lacked the speed to fill that role in today’s go-kart NHL.
Ritchie has a career total of 109 points — 6 more than Heinen, who was selected 116th overall in the same 2014 draft. The swap is a chance for both forwards to get a new crack at fully establishing their games, with Ritchie surrounded by a much better group of forwards.
Heinen never will be a candidate to become a power forward, but he does have the shot and overall game instinct to become a productive NHLer, provided he can increase his battle level.