By Joely Stockl
CALUM RITCHIE: THE BEST OF THE ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE
Calum Ritchie was drafted just one spot behind Sudbury Wolves winger Quentin Musty in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection at #2 overall. The Brampton Ontario native played his U16 season with the Oakville Rangers, a team that had many tightly touted players, including Matthew Soto and Nick Lardis. This was a difficult draft for OHL teams immediately after the “Covid season” as scouts did not have many recent viewings of these players. However, picking Calum Ritchie at #2 overall was not a mistake for the Oshawa Generals.
It was a no-brainer for the Generals to immediately give Ritchie a top six role in his rookie season. Being a rebuilding team, the Generals needed some fresh, young talent in their lineup, and Ritchie certainly brought that. He played on the second line for the majority of the 2021-2022 season, below Oilers’ pick Ty Tullio, and Bruins’ pick Brett Harrison. He picked up forty five points in sixty five games, which is impressive considering he missed the whole previous season of development.
In the 2022-2023 season, at the time of writing this, Ritchie has tallied eighteen points in twenty one games. He has been leaned upon by his coaches to play big minutes, all over the lineup. On the lineup sheet, he will start as the first line centre, but he takes extra shifts with other lines, giving him an abundance of minutes.
Here at Draft Prospects Hockey, we have Ritchie as the highest NHL draft eligible player from the OHL. His performance off of the stat sheet is crucial when evaluating Ritchie’s game, because he is undeniably the best draft eligible from the OHL, even though he may not be producing the most. Now, I will be diving into Ritchie’s strengths, weaknesses, and the skills that he possesses that have the potential to translate well at the next level.
*For reference, Ritchie is wearing #21 in either red or white jerseys for the Oshawa Generals.
Generating High Quality Scoring Chances
Ritchie possesses a wide variety of offensive tools, but the one that stands out to me the most is the way he is able to generate high quality scoring chances in, and around the slot. On these plays, he is able to find chances for himself and for his teammates, but I want to focus on his solo scoring chances. When watching any one of Ritchie’s games, he seems to have an abundance of opportunities around the net, and most are from dangerous areas. In multiple viewings, he seems to get 4-5 high quality scoring opportunities per game. Though he isn’t able to capitalize on all, or even most of these attempts, this is an offensive ability that is hard to come by at this age. The fact that he is analyzing the zone and driving the puck himself, shows how much he can succeed without the help of his linemates. We also have to keep in mind that his linemates are not generally high producers either. But this sparks the imagination of the success Ritchie would have with high scoring linemates at the next level.
He is able to get inside of the slot very often, especially on the rush. Ritchie is not afraid to drive play through the middle, and he has the puck handling ability and edge work to get to those spots. This is exactly what Ritchie does on this shift, on a delayed penalty. He uses his hands to get an opportunity in the high slot, and he is able to follow up his rebound to get a secondary opportunity.
A combination of these offensive tools makes him a problem for defensemen. His success rate when carrying the puck through the middle is very high. He is able to get those dangerous shots and passes off under immense pressure, and even while off balance. Anytime he shoots the puck, the puck is coming off of his stick like an elastic band. Though his accuracy and shot power are average, he is able to use his quick release as a threat. He uses his hands to manipulate defenders with tremendous confidence. Ritchie only drives through the middle himself when he is confident that he will be able to generate a chance. When he recognizes that these opportunities are not available, he will work his way along the outside and draw in defenders. By doing this, he is able to open up lanes for his linemates.
In this clip, Ritchie is able to manipulate the defensemen by dragging the puck in towards his body to create a lane to the net through the middle. He recognizes that the defender’s feet are going the other way, and he extends the toe drag until he has a clear lane. His edge work on this play allows him to cut back a little bit to create more separation to get the shot off.
One thing that has helped Ritchie’s decision making is his increased patience with the puck on his stick. He has been able to slow the game down and analyze his best possible move, which was something that he rushed last season. Changing pace with the puck catches the defenders deep in the zone, where he is then able to cut towards the middle.
This clip is an example of Ritchie using patience on his shot, and on the pass attempt. Both opportunities come from the slot area, and after the first shot attempt, he is able to stay hidden behind the defense and find his teammate driving through the backdoor. Even though this pass was unsuccessful, a lot of players would have shot this puck immediately. Ritchie takes the time and analyzes the fact that if this pass is able to get through, this his best scoring opportunity.
Now, when Ritchie does capitalize on his attempts, they often make the highlight reel. The combination of his speed, hands, and awareness of gaps in the defense allow him to break in alone. When he is able to get a clear lane to the net, he can pull off miraculous moves, even on a tough angle, as shown in the clip below.
Playmaking & Vision
In the majority of his game, Ritchie is a pass-first player. He is like a magnet in the way he draws defenders towards him, as he always has the puck on his stick. This puts pressure on him, but he is able to use this to open up lanes for his teammates. Because Ritchie has the ability to pass accurately through traffic and high danger areas, attracting defenders toward him allows him to display these passing abilities most effectively. His footwork is a valuable asset that he uses to open up space for himself and for others. He is able to use his edge and foot work to bring the puck away from the “home plate” area, and open up lanes to teammates in that area.
On this play, he recognizes that three opposing players have been drawn into the corner, and he has a sense for an open teammate in the low slot. He fires a blind spin pass that lands right on the tape, and forces the puck to the front once again after the scoring attempt.
Ritchie has a terrific sense for where his teammates are at all times. He is able to put pucks through high danger areas to find his teammates. He is able to dish the puck accurately from anywhere on the ice. The way he is able to fire blind passes with immense confidence makes it seem like he has eyes in the back of his head. Ritchie’s vision is certainly a big part of his game, and this is another reason why he generates so many high quality scoring opportunities.
In this powerplay opportunity, as soon as Ritchie gets the puck, he looks across the ice and recognizes a potential cross-seam pass. He then backtracks using his feet, which draws the high defender very high up in the zone.The defensemen gets caught too high, and Ritchie is able to explode forward and get the pass off.
This is a prime example of the way Ritchie sees the offensive zone, he is able to find gaps and catch defenders off guard. His footwork allows him to be deceptive, and by the time Ritchie explodes forwards, it is too late for the defense to get back in position.
Here is a clip of Ritchie making a high area pass. He flips the puck over the opposing player as he is breaking out of the zone, and it is able to land right onto Beckett Sennecke’s (#45) blade. This gives Sennecke a clean entry and potential scoring opportunity.
Calum Ritchie has the ability to pull off a variety of different passing techniques from seemingly anywhere on the ice. His vision and deceptiveness is certainly something to be aware of when a player is defending against him.
Two-Hundred Foot Hockey IQ
Calum Ritchie’s game starts from his own zone. He supports his defensemen and is able to read when they get out of position. There are several young defensemen on the Oshawa Generals, and Ritchie is able to recognize and cover for them when they make rookie-like mistakes. He has defensive zone awareness to be able to cover passing lanes and keep opposing players to the outside. Ritchie can also recognize when his teammates are in danger of losing a puck battle, and he is able to scoop in and pick up the loose puck from the scrum, even when it may take him out of position. He has the mental discipline to only charge after loose pucks when he knows there is a high probability of him gaining possession.
In this clip, Ritchie recognizes that his defenseman has been checked out of the play during a puck battle. He is able to scoop in and try to pull the puck out, eventually, he is able to poke it loose. He pokes the puck to the middle, and he is able to fight off two attacking players to dive and chip the puck out of his own zone.
On the breakout, Ritchie makes sure his defense are supported and that he is able to be a safe outlet. When he is on the ice, and his team is breaking out, there is a high chance that he will be the one carrying the puck through the neutral zone.
On this shift, his team has two consecutive breakout attempts, where they are only successful on the second attempt. Ritchie has a similar skating pattern on both breakouts, one on each side of the ice, he swings down low along the faceoff circle and gives his defender an easy outlet. He is also giving the defender low support in case he bobbles the puck or turns it over.
His strength and ability to protect the puck and keep possession is another strong part of his two hundred foot game. He is difficult to knock off the puck and he may make the opposing player take a penalty to get the puck off of him. In this clip, Ritchie is able to protect the puck from a big defenseman in Sam Dickenson (#3), and he is able to keep possession until his teammates get open in front.
Areas of Improvement
One thing I would like to see more of in Ritchie’s game is his effort on the backcheck. If he begins to skate back harder on the backcheck, he will be able to stick check those passes to the trailer that end up in his own net. This is something that happens from time to time, and Ritchie is not able to stick check the trailer in time. He is usually caught gliding in on the backcheck, which is a surprising flaw in his game. He skates so hard when he or his teammates have the puck, and when he is chasing after loose pucks. But when he is on the backcheck, he seems to try to catch his breath. He is solid defensively when he is already in the zone, but it is when the other team is on the rush that he decides to slow down. If he picks up his effort on the backcheck, his plus/minus will likely increase. Ritchie does have a defensive presence and he is able to save potential goals, he just needs to keep doing that on the backcheck.
Another area I still want him to improve on is his decision making. It has certainly improved since last season, but he is still trying puck manoeuvres that are unrealistic and are resulting in turnovers. He wants to create the most high quality scoring opportunity, but when he is forcing plays, he shows signs of immaturity. If he can keep reigning back his unrealistic deking attempts, he will cause less turnovers and potentially create better opportunities by becoming selective.
By drafting Calum Ritchie, you are getting a player with tremendous vision and playmaking ability, who is most dangerous off of the rush. He has a knack for getting into high danger scoring areas, and his soft hands and edge work allow him to get to these spots. His vision will make his playmaking ability effective at the NHL level, and his mind is already processing the game at this level. I can see Ritchie as a top six NHL centre who can elevate the players around him, and will fit best with forwards who can put the puck in the net when in a high danger area. I expect to hear his name called within the top ten picks at the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville.
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