A mainstay for 2002-2003 Ontario League and Memorial Cup champions Kitchener, center Mike Richards was also a teammate of fellow Flyers’ first round pick Jeff Carter on the Canada under-18 WJC team. Richards actually outpointed Carter in 2002-2003.
Richards’ play in 2002-2003 obscured the fact that the player is barely past his 18th birthday. To watch him excel in all manpower situations in the Memorial Cup, you’d have thought Richards was an experienced veteran, rather than a second year player.
Questions about his size and straight-ahead knocked him down to the late first round in the 2003 draft but it is telling that Richards is highly respected around junior hockey and is regarded as a winner, who doesn’t back down under pressure. His Memorial Cup performance, of course, certainly helped him gain that reputation.
Talent AnalysisRichards is often compared to ex-Flyer Mike Ricci (their #4 overall pick in the 1990 draft). In other draft years with weaker crops, Richards almost certainly would have been a top 10 pick, but it was not surprising that in this year’s draft, teams rolled the dice on some higher-ceiling players. In fact, Darryl Sutter, GM of the Calgary Flames, admitted afterwards that if Red Deer defenseman Dion Phaneuf were not available at the ninth pick, Richards would have been their selection.
Richards is a very smart, crafty player with above-average skills in every area except skating. No one questions Richards' hockey sense, work ethic or his ice vision. Although he doesn’t have the naturally soft hands of Carter, Richards has a special knack for coming up with loose pucks around the net and he never gives up on the play.
As a forechecker, Richards is the kind of player who goes into the corner with a bigger player and emerges with the puck. He’s absolutely fearless when it comes to taking a hit and he’ll give it back, too. Defensively, as he showed in the Memorial Cup, he seems to bear down especially hard on draws in his own end and more than holds his own against bigger players. Offensively, he has a deft passing touch to go along with his nose for the net.