Peterborough Petes coach Jody Hull is accustomed to seeing forward Nicholas Ritchie take over games as he did two months ago against the Kingston Frontenacs.
The only difference being Hull never witnessed a five-goal outburst from his 6-foot-2.25, 231-pound power forward.
Ritchie finished that Feb. 7 game with a career-high six points in a 7-6 shootout loss to Kingston. It was a remarkable display of skating, shooting and toughness from the No. 7 player on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2014 NHL Draft.
It marked the first five-goal game for an Ontario Hockey League player since Ritchie's brother, Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie, scored five times for the Niagara IceDogs against the Petes on Nov. 4, 2012.
Nicholas Ritchie's five-goal game also matched a Peterborough mark accomplished two other times, by Bill Gardner (November 1979) and Doug Evans (October 1983).
"When [Ritchie] has those types of nights, to me it's like a man playing with boys because he can be that dominant," Hull said. "He's done it before. Maybe he hasn't gotten the points but he's been very dominant and that's the type of game he's capable of playing."
Having the opportunity to share a record with his brother is something Nicholas Ritchie doesn't take for granted.
"Just because of how great he's been with me," Ritchie said. "He's two years older than me and I've followed him all the way up and everything he's done. I've tried to do the things he has done and I'm hoping to be playing pro hockey like he is one day."
NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said Ritchie compares at this point to a former member of the Dallas Stars, forward James Neal.
Ritchie has been trending upward on most draft boards over the past few months. Now in his third season with the Petes, Ritchie set career highs in goals (39), assists (35), points (74) and penalty minutes (136) in 61 regular-season games. He also had a positive plus/minus number (plus-4) for the first time.
He scored the game-winning goal 12:17 into overtime April 1 to eliminate the favored Frontenacs and top prospect Samuel Bennett in Game 7 of the opening round of the OHL Eastern Conference playoffs.
Ritchie, who had a goal and an assist in the tournament clincher, has five goals, eight points and 14 penalty minutes in seven playoff games. The Petes, who were making their first playoff appearance in four seasons, became the fourth team in OHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit. Ritchie was the catalyst, contributing four goals and seven points in the final four games.
Ritchie was chosen by the Petes with the second pick of the 2011 OHL draft. He was one of the youngest players in the league in 2011-12, but had 16 goals, 23 assists and 60 penalty minutes in 63 games. He was asked if he was at all intimidated in his inaugural season in Peterborough.
"Maybe a little bit when you first break into the league; it's always tough for a young guy," he said. "I was a big kid who could deal with that physical play. It was just more of a mental thing and I think I got through it pretty well."
Despite sustaining a shoulder injury that sidelined him the first two months of 2012-13, Ritchie had 18 goals, 17 assists and 50 penalty minutes in 41 games in his second season. He also won gold medals with Canada at the 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament and at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
"He's a smarter player this year [than 2012-13]," Hull said. "He's more aware, especially when he doesn't have the puck or when the other team has the puck. Those are things you develop over time; it doesn't just happen overnight. I think he's starting to realize the amount of work that you have to put in if you want to play on a consistent basis at the next level."
Ritchie predominantly has been playing left wing alongside center Hunter Garlent and right wing Eric Cornel, No. 23 on Central Scouting's midterm list. Garlent, a first-round OHL draft pick in 2011, was acquired from the Guelph Storm in January and immediately was inserted on the top line between Ritchie and Cornel.
"When we picked up Hunter at the trade deadline it was a no-brainer for me to put them together. They've been very good as a line ever since," Hull said.
Ritchie's strong play earned him a spot on Team Cherry at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January.
"He's a big, physical, tough guy," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "When he's playing and using his size and strength he's tough to knock off the puck. He goes to the net hard and has that power-forward mentality that's tough for people to handle. He protects the puck and has an excellent shot off the rush."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer