Centre Calum Ritchie could be the Canucks’ latest first-round OHL selection since 2016
3 months ago
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Welcome back to our series here at CanucksArmy where we examine players who could be available for the Vancouver Canucks to take with the 11th pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
We’ve previously broken down Swedish right-shot defenceman Axel Sandin Pellikka; last season’s youngest NCAA player, BC’s own, Matthew Wood; Bo Horvat comparable, Slovakian centre Dalibor Dvorský, and draft long shot Matvei Michkov. For the first time in this series, we’ll take a look at the OHL and centre Calum Ritchie, who could be called up on stage as the Canucks’ lucky number 11.
Calum Ritchie, who has one of the earlier birthdays in the 2005 draft class, differentiated himself as a top prospect with a good showing as an assistant captain with the Oshawa Generals, and internationally as a member of Team Canada’s bronze-medal U-18 World Championship team. Ritchie, as described by Elite Prospects, as “your favourite scout’s favourite player,” totalled 59 points (24 G, 35 A) in 59 appearances in the OHL this season, and put up 19 points (7 G, 12 A) in 12 Team Canada games, split between the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the IIHF U-18 World Championship.
As a member of the Toronto Pro Hockey Brick Tournament — the same tournament that projected first overall pick Connor Bedard and potential sixth overall pick Ryan Leonard attended — Ritchie has been touted as an elite player from a very young age. His continual progression resulted in him being picked second overall in the 2021 OHL Draft, one spot behind the 12th projected pick for the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft, Quentin Musty. If selected, Ritchie will become just the ninth OHL player the Canucks have chosen with their first selection in an NHL draft — and the first one the Canucks have picked since Olli Juolevi in 2016. The Canucks’ most successful pick to come from that group of nine was during 2013, when they selected former Canuck captain, Bo Horvat.
What scouts are saying
Scott Wheeler, The Athletic: “This year, wearing an “A” as a 17-year-old with the Generals, he’s been arguably their most consistent forward while playing a key role on the penalty kill and late in games in the faceoff circle (where he is really strong). I’d like to see him pick up a bit more of an acceleration gear from a standstill (his stride can look a little short/stunted/heavy), and fill the scoresheet a little more (though the talent around him has something to do with that too), but there’s a lot to like.”
Corey Pronman, The Athletic: “He looks like a top prospect, but he’s quite inconsistent. Ritchie has long stretches where he doesn’t make much of an impact, and plays too much on the perimeter. The toolkit screams “good NHL player,” and I think eventually he will be that, but he may frustrate you along the way.”
Craig Button, TSN: “He’s such a unique player: he’s big, he’s rangy, I’ve seen him play wing, I’ve seen him play centre-ice. So, those questions of what position will he end up being: I love versatility in a player. His skating, his brain, his puck skills, I see [him] clearly as [a] top-notch prospect, and [a] certain NHLer in my view.”
J.D. Burke, Elite Prospects: “I’m not sure I’ve seen many players with a better wall game than Ritchie this season. He takes the right lines, gets underneath opponents, drives through their hands, and makes plays with pace once the puck is in his possession. Probably one of the strongest players from the elbows to wrists in this year’s draft – those stick-lifts are lethal. Some really skilled, intelligent small-area passing. This is a player who can do a lot of damage below the hash marks.”
David St-Louis, Elite Prospects: “He knows where his outlets are, what the best next play is, and how to manipulate defenders. He seems calm and aware and he anticipates well. He protects pucks well on the wall, gets out of traffic, and passes inside. He’s just a solid prospect, a guy you draft top-15 and watch slowly develop into, hopefully, a 2nd-liner.”
Mitchell Brown, Elite Prospects: “Hard skills appear, with how he spins off pressure, skates through the hands, and uses his bottom hand to lock opponents to his back. The skating’s a problem: he lacks lower-body flexion and struggles to separate with his moves. The physical skills are a solution. He looks like a top-15 pick in this game. The low-volume creation’s more a result of his environment.”
When it comes to where he’ll be selected in the draft, Ritchie is a bit of a curve ball. He’s all over the draft board from number 12 all the way to being a pick removed from the first-round. There’s also a glaring discrepancy between TSN insiders Craig Button, who has Ritchie going 26th overall, and Bob McKenzie, who has Ritchie slotted in at 13th. That gap alone is the difference maker between a middle of the pack player and a low-end first-round draft pick. Based on the average of these ratings, Ritchie would be selected 22nd overall. Less than three weeks away from the draft, no one has placed Ritchie before the Canucks’ number 11 selection. Meaning, the only way he won’t be around when the 12th pick comes around, is if the Canucks do select him. With some scouts placing him right behind pick number 11, Ritchie certainly warrants a second glance for the Canucks — if he isn’t the team’s first player in mind, he might be one the Canucks’ backup plans when they’re put on the clock.
According to Elite Prospects, the weakest part of Ritchie’s game is his skating: only two of the projected 32 first-round picks had a lower score in that state category. Speed is everything right now in the NHL, especially when you have to defend players like Connor McDavid who are clocking speeds upwards of 40 km/h. As noted by Elite Prospects, Ritchie’s skating is a direct result of poor mechanics: “[he] is a below-average skater because of generally poor posture, the result of a rounded back and a lack of ankle dorsiflexion. There just plain isn’t that much pop in his stride.”
While his skating is an underdeveloped fixture of his game, it can be fixed with the assistance of a skating coach and athletic therapist, which is something whatever team drafts him will want to get on right away. What you can’t, however, teach is size, and standing at 6 ‘2, 187 lbs, Ritchie still has room to grow, and especially fill out. With an already good-sized frame, Ritchie relies on his body to protect the puck. While he’s one of the better defensive forwards in the first-round, David St-Louis of Elite Prospects explained that he’s not doing so by simply evading pressure. Instead, he’s protecting the puck, buying time for teammates, and cutting a pass their way. It’s precisely why his wall game is one of the best in the draft, both offensively and defensively. He uses the extra inches he has on players to his benefit to cradle the puck out of harm’s way. While his skating speed is slow, his mental speed is certainly not. Which is why Mitchell Brown of Elite Prospects says “he already plays the game that he will play in the NHL.”
Aside from pace, another component that could be a detriment to Ritchie as his career progresses, is a shoulder injury he sustained last year while at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Ritchie has re-injured that same shoulder two more times since then — once during the OHL playoffs and another time right before the U-18 World Championships. The 18-year-old missed some Team Canada exhibition games so he could rest his shoulder in time for the round robin. Immediately following that tournament, Ritchie said he had a “procedure done.” Ritchie has seemed to bounce back from the injury, but with an already weakened shoulder, in a physically demanding league, an upper body injury that may be minor for one player, could be much more serious for him. This could just end up being a red herring for the centre, but because he’s built up an early history of injuries, any sign of shoulder discomfort will be enough to act as a cause for concern.
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