The St. Louis Blues are closing in on the start of the 2023-24 training camp. While it still doesn’t quite feel like hockey season, things will be ramping up at light speed in the near future.
St. Louis essentially has their roster pretty set, though we don’t know some defensive combinations and the forward lines have plenty of options. Nevertheless, Doug Armstrong is always looking for shrewd ways to help/improve the team.
That’s where Nick Richie comes in. The Blues have signed Ritchie to a PTO – professional tryout.
Sometimes these deals are pretty useless, but St. Louis has hit on quite a few over the years. Tyler Pitlick, James Neal and Mike Hoffman were all recent Blues signees brought into camp on a PTO.
It should be noted that Hoffman was a special situation, signed to a PTO until the Blues could work the salary cap scenario. Nevertheless, those were all examples of PTO’s working reasonably well if the players stuck around.
Basically, this is a no-lose situation for St. Louis.
If Ritchie is a bust in camp, he costs the team nothing. If he can find some form, he pushes draft picks to be better and challenges the bottom-six players to be better if they want to hold their spots.
The reason there is hope for Ritchie to make the team is because there is talent there. Ritchie was the 10th overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2014.
Whether he turns out to be a bust or not, you don’t get selected that high if there is not a consensus that you have the potential to be a good player. Ritchie just never found his way in the NHL the way some thought.
In the right situation, Ritchie has flourished. While his career high in points came in Anaheim, he did score the most goals of his career with the Boston Bruins. In the covid-shortened season of 2020-21, he had 15 goals in 56 games.
Though his numbers weren’t great after that, he still managed 12 and 13 goals in the following seasons. You might make the argument those are pretty decent numbers considering he played for Toronto, Arizona and Calgary in that short span.
Also on the positive side, Ritchie is only 27. He will turn 28 in December, but he’s got plenty of hockey left in his legs, assuming he Blues or another team continues to employ him.
He’s also got some size. Ritchie is listed at 6’3 and 236 lbs.
He’s definitely not going to get pushed around. If he fits into the overall system, the Blues need someone who can plant themselves in certain spots in the offensive zone and not get bullied out.
On the negative side, Ritchie clearly has not blossomed into what any franchise would have thought a 10th overall pick would be. Maybe it’s coming up through Anaheim’s system or maybe it’s the player, but it is hard to think he’s not a bust in terms of potential versus production.
Also, he’s already been with five other teams. If he got signed by the Blues, he would have been with at least six teams before he even turns 30.
Still, looking back toward the possibilities, Ritchie had 218 hits in 2022-23. For context, Noel Acciari led the Blues with 168 hits and only played in 54 games with the Blues.
Ritchie would be a welcome physical force for a team that kind of got pushed around last year. Of course, he has to earn a spot.
Some fans will automatically whine that he’s taking a spot from their prospects. No offense, but that’s a double-edged sword of a fallacy.
First, if the prospects cannot beat out a 27-year old veteran who projects as a fourth or, at best, third line player, maybe they don’t deserve a spot yet. Second, do we really want a player like Zachary Bolduc getting fourth-line minutes anyway?
You sign a player like Ritchie to fit a certain role. If he out-produces that role, fantastic. However, you’re signing him to be a bottom-six player, not to hope he suddenly starts playing like a 10th overall pick.
So, it’s a can’t lose situation for the Blues. Ritchie might earn his spot, give the Blues some grit and goal numbers in the teens.
If he doesn’t make the team, he’s done nothing but take a roster spot for preseason games that would have showcased players you haven’t heard of anyway. If he has a good camp and still doesn’t make the team, that means he has pushed the guys that do earn spots to be better.
Nobody on this team, or the entire franchise, should think they are granted anything. Either Ritchie will earn his spot or he will force someone to earn theirs. The Blues win either way.