First-round selection Jamieson Oleksiak may have received more attention over the past two weeks as the Dallas Stars top pick in the NHL Entry Draft on June 24, but the club is also quite excited about its second-round choice, right winger Brett Ritchie
Tabbed with the 44th overall selection, Ritchie attended the Stars’ 2011 development camp event over the past week and has enjoyed his introduction to the organization, and even celebrated his 18th birthday here on July 1.
“It’s a great organization, they’re so professional, it’s not like anything you’re going to find in junior,” said Ritchie, who spent last season with Sarnia of the OHL. “They set up your equipment for you, you don’t have to do anything like that, just little things like that. There’s 1000 people in the organization, too. Even in the meetings with the psychologist, they have like 40 of their staff there, which was a lot different, so they show how they care about their players.”
Just getting the chance to mingle with the other Dallas prospects, including guys like Tomas Vincour
who spent some time in the NHL last year, was a thrill for Ritchie, and a glimpse into what life at the next level is like.
“It’s a lot different than what you’d find in a junior camp, like the OHL,” said Ritchie, who totaled 21 goals and 41 points in just 49 games in a 2010-11 season interrupted by a bout with mononucleosis. “These guys are so much closer to playing pro and some of them are playing pro in the AHL, and the caliber is so much higher, so it’s a lot different. You see how hard these guys work, especially the guys that are playing pro right now. Playing these high-tempo drills, you’ve got to bring that speed, that tempo back to your junior team and hopefully get better quicker.”
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Ritchie has impressive size and tries to utilize it to create scoring chances.
“I think I play a power forward style, I use my size to my advantage,” said Ritchie, a native of Orangeville, Ontario. “I win a lot of puck battles, I think I have a good shot and I’m dependable at both ends of the ice.”
That unique blend of brawn and skill certainly makes Ritchie an intriguing prospect and attracted quite a bit of attention from scouts around the NHL.
“Brett is a big, strong winger. He has good hands, shoots the puck well and goes to the net,” said Stars scout Jimmy Johnston. “He has a lot of upside. He will dig in at the walls and works hard.”
“He uses his size well, fights through checks and is tough along the boards,” added Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting. “He has good playmaking ability and he sees the ice well. He also has a very good shot and has scored some goals coming in off the wing.”
As last season progressed, Ritchie got used to seeing scouts more often and described the pre-draft process as a positive overall experience.
“It started at the start of last year, scouts will come up to you, they’re in the stands and they might talk to you a little bit,” recounted Ritchie, who also impressed when he skated for Team Canada at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships, tying for second on the team with four goals and seven points in seven games. “There’s interviews here and there, they have you fill out papers, and guys are calling you. Then you get to the combine and then you’re talking to all teams, all the GM’s. It’s really busy, you never really know what’s going to happen, and once I got picked, it was a huge relief.”
Ritchie also shed a little light on the now-famous pre-draft visit with the Stars that includes a session with club psychologist Scot McFadden.
“That was awesome, it wasn’t bad at all. It was like three hours long, but it felt like it was 40 minutes,” said Ritchie, who amassed nine goals and 15 points over a nine-game span from late December through mid-January. “He’s a really cool guy and I learned a lot from him. We did some different exercises. He has these pictures and it’s a weird design that you got to tell him what it reminds you of, just weird stuff like that, and judging by that, he can sense what your personality is like and what you need to do psychologically, to think about before a game to help you be better. It’s really hard to explain, but it helped me out a lot.”
Since he appeared to have established pretty good relationships with members of the Stars’ organization, Ritchie was not surprised they eventually chose him.
“Going into the draft, they were one of the teams that showed a lot of interest in me so it wasn’t too much of a surprise,” he said. “I’m very excited right now.”
And while Ritchie may still be several years away from being able to secure a roster spot in Dallas, he will be heading back to his junior club in Sarnia armed with the confidence and experience of having skated with some soon-to-be NHLers, not to mention a notebook full of pointers and conditioning tips.
He also knows he’ll be looked upon as a go-to veteran on his club, with the pressure and expectations that go along with being a second-round pick, and welcomes the responsibility.
“I guess that’s a natural progression,” said Ritchie of his sure-to-be-expanded role next season. “And as the years go on, you get bigger and stronger and you adapt to the pace of the game.”