Peterborough Petes forward Nick Ritchie has played a key role in leading the Petes back into the OHL playoffs. But when it comes to finding a way to the podium at the 2014 NHL Draft, the 18-year-old has someone much closer to home to help show him the way.
“[Brett] was a second-rounder when he was drafted and he’s been a big help to me,” he said. “He’s been through it, been to the combine, talked to the teams, and was drafted. He’s the perfect guy to listen to him and I’ve talked to him a lot of over the year.”
Older brother Brett Ritchie was drafted in the second round, 44th overall, at the 2011 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, 20-year-old Brett would be most people’s ‘big’ brother, but 18-year-old Nick, at 6’2 and 220 pounds, still has some room to grow. Nick said Brett has given him plenty of advice, but there’s no main thing to focus upon.
“He hasn’t said one key thing,” Nick explained. “He just says not to worry too much and just play hockey, the game you’ve played your whole life. He doesn’t get too much into the details.”
With Nick’s ratings, he’s projected to be a high to mid-first round pick. So, is there any sibling rivalry amongst the Ritchies?
“It’s not really a competition,” Nick said. “Hopefully I can get drafted higher than he did, but at the end of the day you just want to get drafted and go from there.”
For the 2013-14 season, Ritchie finished with 39 goals and added 35 assists in 61 games for the resurgent Petes. He also racked up 136 penalty minutes. That robust physical game and his size projects him as a prototypical power forward, but Ritchie’s hands have earned him some notice — including a historic performance just over a month ago.
Ritchie scored five goals and added an assist on Feb. 7th in a losing effort to Kingston. It was the largest single-game goal-scoring output in almost two years. And the last player to score five in an OHL game? Older brother Brett in November of 2012.
Nick said that game was a unique experience.
“No, that was the first time it’s ever happened and it was a pretty good experience,” he said. “I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing — it’s certainly not going to happen often, so it was awesome. We ended up not winning that game, but it was still cool personally.”
In fact, Ritchie added the last time he would have had that offensive output would have been many, many years ago.
“I think I might have had that when I was young, but definitely not the same skill level as junior hockey,” he said. “It’s one thing to do it as a young kid, but it’s something totally different when you’re playing against the best guys in your age in the world.
“I think it just happened. You get a few chances early and you put them in. Everything you seem to shoot seems to find the back of the net.”
Ritchie’s combination of size and scoring is appealing to a lot of teams, which has rocketed him up the rankings. But Ritchie said he doesn’t focus too much on what the scouting services say.
“It’s pretty exciting. I try not to look at that because that’s just certain companies that do those rankings,” he said. “Who I’m really trying to impress is the NHL teams that are out there watching you. You know they’re here every night, so you just work as hard as you can and whatever happens, happens.”
And Ritchie said he knows what they’re looking for out of him.
“I think I’m a bigger guy, so if I play hard and physical, be hard on the puck, and take pucks to the net — everything they want in a big guy,” he said. “Just play a big man’s game and that’s all you can control.”
Ritchie plays on a line with fellow draft-eligible Eric Cornel. And while they’re both cognizant of the draft, they don’t dwell on it.
“We don’t really talk about it because you don’t want it to get in your head too much,” he said. “In hockey, you don’t want to add too much pressure to yourself. You just want to focus on playing and winning games with your team.”
Ritchie said he’s a Leafs’ fan – as an Orangeville, ON native, it’s almost a residency prerequisite – but, for obvious reasons, he’s willing to switch allegiances.
“I was a Leafs’ fan growing up. I do like the Stars a little bit now,” he said. “If [Brett] got to play there, maybe I’d change. Right now he’s in the American Hockey League [with the Texas Stars] and working his way up.”
The younger Ritchie added that the two brothers have never played on the same team on the ice — however they have played together on grass.
“We played lacrosse together,” he said. “We never played hockey because the age difference was too great with the two years. Lacrosse was kind of a mixed age, where hockey was more age restricted.”
Ritchie said he was quite good at lacrosse and could have pursued more competitive levels, but Canada’s other national sport held more sway.
“I stopped playing after midget, just because of hockey and training in the summer,” he said. “I often think I could still be playing and I kind of wish I still played, but hockey’s more of my thing so I’ll stick with that.”
Ritchie said there are obvious benefits from playing lacrosse that translate to hockey. “Hand-eye co-ordination is a big thing and competition,” he said. “It’s a hard game with a lot of hacking and slashing, so you learn to be a tougher guy and an all-around better athlete.”
So, in the end, who is tougher? Lacrosse players or hockey players? Ritchie chose the safe route considering his long-term job prospects.
“I’ll still say hockey players are tougher,” he said. “Lacrosse players are tough, but I don’t know if I’d want to mess with some of those big hockey players in the NHL.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard