Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie’s 2011-12 season started off well enough. He had one goal and two assists as the Sarnia Sting won its season opener and was named the third star of the game. After that it was a bumpy ride the next couple months due to injuries, and then things turned around.
“Sometimes change is good,” said Ritchie.
Change came in the way of a trade within the Ontario Hockey League that sent Ritchie from Sarnia to the Niagara IceDogs, one of the top teams in the league.
After the trade, the right wing was a point-a-game guy for the IceDogs. He registered 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) and had a plus-27 rating in 30 games as Niagara finished first in the Eastern Conference and tied for the second most points in the OHL.
“I loved it there. It was just the perfect fit,” Ritchie said. “It’s always easier to play with better guys. When you are winning a lot of games you have a lot of confidence. I found that it’s a lot easier to play and a lot more fun when you are winning games and doing well.”
Niagara, which also acquired Stars defense prospect Jamie Oleksiak in a separate deal, made a great run in the playoffs, advancing to the OHL Finals, where it lost to the London Knights. Ritchie picked up 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in 20 playoff games.
“When he ended up getting traded to Niagara he took that as a blessing,” said Les Jackson, Dallas Stars Director of Player Personnel. “He got an opportunity, a new start and he embraced it. He played really well.”
It was a glimpse of the potential of Ritchie, a second round pick (44th overall) in 2011. He offered another glimpse of that potential at the Stars’ recent development camp in Frisco, where he was among the players who stood out and showed a lot of growth over the past year.
“He’s got all the tools to be a really good player,” said Jackson. “He’s a big man who can skate, handle the puck and has a good shot.”
The Stars have seen a lot of progress over the past year in Ritchie, who is right-handed and is listed at 6-3, 190 pounds.
“From last year to this year he’s probably made the most gains,” said J.J. McQueen, Dallas Stars Player Development Coordinator. “He was injured a bit at the beginning of the year but he came back from the injury and he’s gotten bigger, stronger and quicker.”
Ritchie was projected as a power forward when the Stars drafted him last summer, and that’s the role he plays in junior hockey.
“I am a big power forward, good skater,” said Ritchie. “I’ve become a lot better skater over the years, way better agility than I used to have. I think I have a good two-way game, good at both ends of the ice. I can use my size to my advantage pretty well.”
The Stars and Ritchie both expect another year of progress. The 19-year-old is expected to play with Niagara again this season.
“He’ll go back to junior and I am sure he’ll play a big role with Niagara this year, be one of their go-to players,” said Jackson. “He keeps getting better. He just has to play and keep improving. He has a fantastic base. It will be interesting to see how he grows and matures through this season.”
Ritchie also has his eyes on playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship. He took part in Canada’s summer development camp last August. Canada isn’t holding a camp this summer and will be taking part in a series of games against Russia instead. Ritchie isn’t on the roster for that series, so that means the start of his season will be key.
“It’s a goal for me,” Ritchie said. “I’ve got to prove it to those guys, and make that team.”
The Stars signed Ritchie to a three-year entry level contract at the end of development camp. Even though the plan is for him to return to juniors this season, he still has loftier goals. He earned an invitation to Stars training camp last season, and hopes to make the most of the opportunity this time around.
“You always have the attitude of trying to make the team. If you don’t have that attitude you are never going to succeed,” he said. “If I get sent back to junior, Niagara is a great spot. I had a great time last year. I want to make sure I am a leader on that team and I want to be one of the best players on the ice every night.”