By Kyle Shohara
Tonight could be one to remember for young left wing Nick Ritchie. The 19-year-old, recalled Saturday along with center Michael Sgarbossa from San Diego of the American Hockey League, took line rushes this morning with Ryan Kesler and Chris Stewart at the team’s morning skate in Carolina.
It would mark the NHL debut for the 6-2, 232-pound Orangeville, Ontario native, who was drafted by Anaheim with the 10th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft.
“I'm excited for tonight,” said Ritchie after the morning skate. “I'm just going to go out there and play my game. Just play how I play. Hopefully I can help those two guys I play with.”
“He's a big guy and we want to see what he can do,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “If you bring up your prized rookie from the minors, you don't want to play him six minutes. You want to see if he can play. He's done a great job in the AHL, so we’re giving him the opportunity here.”
Boudreau says he told Ritchie to just be himself, if in fact, he plays tonight.
“I just told him to have fun,” Boudreau said. “Play the way you can. Nothing more and nothing less. Don't try to do too much. Play within yourself and everything will be good.”
Ritchie split his fourth Ontario Hockey League season with Peterborough and Sault Ste. Marie in 2014-15, combining for 29 goals and 62 points with a +1 rating and 113 penalty minutes in 48 games.
He ranked fourth among OHL playoff leaders in scoring (13g/13a) despite playing six games fewer than those remaining in the top five. Ritchie also ranked tied for second in goals, eighth in assists and tied for third in game-winning goals (3). Ritchie owned the OHL’s longest postseason goal streak at 10 games (13g/9a) from March 18-April 26 and second-longest playoff scoring streak at 12 games (13g/12a) from March 27-April 28. His 12 consecutive games with a point only trailed a 16-game point streak by former Erie Otter (and current Edmonton Oiler) Connor McDavid.
Ritchie took a step further in his development this year, appearing in his first season in the AHL. He scored nine goals for 12 points with a +3 rating in 12 games with the Gulls, and, at the time of his recall, ranked tied for third among AHL leaders in goals and second among league rookies in points and goals.
Anton Khudobin will make his second consecutive start tonight, a chance to face his former team for the first time. The 29-year-old posted an 8-17-6 record with one shutout, a 2.72 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 34 games last season with Carolina.
Frederik Andersen will likely get the start tomorrow night against the Nashville Predators. The Hurricanes actually drafted Andersen in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Draft but were unable to sign him. Andersen re-entered the 2012 NHL Draft, where he was chosen by Anaheim in the third round.
Khudobin, who is 1-0-0 with a 3.00 GAA in one career appearance vs. Carolina, was acquired by Anaheim for defenseman James Wisniewski on June 27.
Unfortunately for Wisniewski, his first season with the Hurricanes lasted all of 47 seconds. That’s because the veteran blueliner tore the ACL in his left knee in the season opener vs. Nashville and underwent surgery soon after. His recovery time is expected to be six months.
Eddie Lack will start for Carolina. Acquired from the Vancouver Canucks for a 2015 third-round (66th overall) pick and 2016 seventh-round pick on June 27, Lack is 2-4-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .897 SV% in eight career games vs. Anaheim. Remember Anaheim’s 9-1 victory vs. Vancouver at Honda Center on Jan. 15, 2014? Lack started that game and lasted 23:58 while giving up three goals on 13 shots.
With a goal of winning the week, Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner says he and his teammates have taken full responsibility for the past couple of games.
“We had a couple of games at home that we wanted to win and we didn't get the outcomes we wanted,” he said. “That's on us. It's coming down to what's in this room. Tonight we can show we can win on the road. You win tonight and you’re starting the trip off on the right foot.”
The Hurricanes are coming off a similar stretch of games. They’ve lost three in a row, the last two in overtime, and have dropped five of the past six. Defenseman Justin Faulk says it’s been a learning experience for the club.
“We've had a couple tough losses before where we had opportunities to kind of end the game,” he said. “We kind of let the other team back in those previous two games. We are trying to get ourselves in a position where we learn from that. Learn how to put teams away when we have a chance. I think we’re going to be a hungry team that's not too thrilled about the last two games. We hope we come out strong and have a good performance.”
Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters had this to say about the Ducks: “They are a dangerous team. They scare me to watch them. Big guys. They have two [big] lines. If they play them altogether, the size is something we have to be concerned with. They have an active defense. We have to be intelligent in making sure we handle them on the rush.”