BUFFALO - Every step of the way, Ryder Ritchie has made the most of opportunity.

He’s doing the same here at the NHL Scouting Combine.

Ritchie, the 2023 WHL Rookie of the Year, is ranked No. 19 among North American skaters ahead of the draft, and over the past two years, he’s made a habit of earning opportunities both at the club level with the Prince Albert Raiders, and with Canada at international tournaments.

The smooth-skating forward has collected 99 points over two seasons in Prince Albert, as the centrepiece of a young Raiders squad that made its return to the post-season this spring, after a one-year absence.

And for Ritchie, Hockeytown North has been the perfect spot to hone his craft.

“I’ve loved PA, for sure,” he said Thursday. “I have great billets, great connection with my teammates and my coaches. Having kind of a young, more in the rebuild process team, coming in as a 16-year-old was helpful. I got the chance to earn top ice-time, earn first powerplay, that was nice and I carried it over into this year.”

You could almost say it’s felt like home.

At age 17, Ritchie’s already well-traveled. Born in Calgary, he spent part of his childhood in Europe before settling in Kelowna after his father, former Flames forward Byron Ritchie, retired.

The younger Ritchie says family photo albums include some snaps of him around the Flames (Byron spent two seasons in Calgary from 2005-07 as part of a 20-year pro career), although he admits he was too young to remember much about his time in the Stampede City.

More memorable for Ryder, the impact Byron has had on his life and career.

“He’s been through it all, he’s such a great mentor, such a good role model to have,” he said. “He’s been through the ups and downs in junior and pro hockey. Just having him around, having him (as) my Dad is super-helpful.

“I owe a lot to him.”

Calgary native reflects on a big year in the WHL

This week’s experience at the Combine has been an honour, Ritchie said.

But it’s also provided him a chance to reconnect with past teammates, with whom he shared a pair of gold-medal memories this past season.

Ritchie helped Canada win a dramatic gold-medal game at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer, then captured a second gold medal this spring at the IIHF U18 World Championship.

“It’s awesome coming here and knowing a lot of the guys,” he said. “I’m really close with some of them, playing with them at Hlinka, playing with them at Worlds and playing against them every night in the Western League.

“It’s definitely comforting to have them here as well.”

At the draft in Las Vegas, Ritchie will have his parents and siblings alongside him, as well as his billet family from Prince Albert.

Integral pieces of a support system that’s helped him get another step closer to living a life-long dream.

“It’s exciting, for sure, having the opportunity to be drafted,” Ritchie said.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun, to share that memory, to share that moment.”