Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

NHL draft tracker: Nick Ritchie, Peterborough Petes

Nick Ritchie would love to transfer the success he's savoured internationally to his team.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder's blend of size and offensive skill makes him a projected first-rounder. Ritchie knows his stock could be indexed to how high his Peterborough Petes climb in the OHL's Eastern Conference. It's cursory at best to juxtapose a player's worth against his team's showing, but it happens. After growing closer with Petes coach Jody Hull last spring when they helped Canada capture the world under-18 championship in Sochi, Russia, Ritchie feels more at ease with being a go-to scorer for Peterborough. So far he has six goals and 12 points in 11 games for the Petes, who are 6-4-0-1 against a fairly challenging early-season schedule.

"That was big," Ritchie, who turns 18 in December, says of he and Hull's time last spring in Sochi, Russia, where the U18 was played in the same arena where the Olympic hockey tournaments will be staged in February. "We got to grow closer together out of that. It was a different experience with Jody being my assistant coach for that tournament instead of being my head coach. We both did a pretty good job. He's known me for a while and definitely knows my game and I know how he coaches and what he asks for. It's been great so far.

"You don't want to be satisfied with not playing well and still winning," Ritchie adds.

The Orangeville, Ont., native's bloodline barely needs referencing. Nick's brother, Brett Ritchie, is a Dallas Stars prospect who was a load for OHL defenders over his final two seasons of junior with the Niagara IceDogs. Nick Ritchie presents a similar challenge to opponents; the difference in the siblings' games appear to be minute.

"He's been dominant physically holding off defenders and forcing himself to the net, making it very difficult to defend against him," Petes general manager Mike Oke says. "I can really notice a maturation in his physical abilities. Nick comes in early in the morning for workouts before heading off to school. I think he's really trying to establish those daily habits and the routine of being a pro hockey player. Understanding that you have to put the time in."

Point-a-game forwards of Ritchie's dimensions are a rare quality. As so often happens with a prototype power winger who's grown up as a big fish in the youth hockey pond, his stock will depend on how teams believe he will respond in challenging situations. Becoming a leader could help him resolve that question.

"It's important to have a good, consistent game," says Ritchie, who had 18 goals and 35 points in 41 games as a sophomore despite injuries. "Being solid everywhere and good shift by shift."

1. Among NHLers, who stand out as players you observe closely since their skill set is similar to the one you're trying to build?

"There's a few guys. I like to play a little bit like [the New York Rangers'] Rick Nash or [Boston Bruins'] Milan Lucic — a bigger power forward with skill. Someone like that."

2. You and Brett are very similar as players. How much does it help to be able to see where he is at age 20, setting the bar for you while you're 17, going on 18?

"It does help a lot, having an older brother whom you have looked up to for your whole life. He's done everything I want to do and I just want to follow in his footsteps and do all of that and maybe a little more."

3. What did the summers you spent in lacrosse do for your hockey development?

"It's the same type of sport, it's based on hand-eye [coordination], there's a net and it's 5-on-5. It helped me learn to compete and it helped me with fitness. You sweat a little more while playing since it's in the summer, but I wouldn't say you have to be in better shape."

4. Two first-rounders from the OHL last season, Sean Monahan (in Ottawa) and Kerby Rychel (in Windsor), were 18-year-olds on teams that missed the playoffs. How badly do you, as a third-year guy, want to make sure the Petes get in and stay for a while?

"I think this year we have a good team and we should be able to do something in the playoffs. Hopefully we'll be able to get a good seed. That's a long way, but we're going to battle for every inch.

"I definitely don't want that to be me this season [out of the playoffs]."

5. Favourite TV show or movie?

"I always liked the Rocky movies. They're probably my favourite."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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