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Brett Ritchie is always looking for more information.
Whenever he gets a chance, the Dallas Stars 23-year-old right wing is talking to his older teammates, particularly veterans Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp.
“Whenever I’m not surea bout about something, and maybe it’s annoying, I’m always talking to them and picking their brain,” Ritchie said. “It’s like 20 questions a day, we’re always talking. Those guys are awesome about that.”
The topics cover a bit of everything.
What do you think of a certain play? Why do you tape you stick a certain way? What do you remember about playing against a certain team?
“He’s a good kid and he likes to talk shop a lot,” Spezza said. “It’s fun and that’s good to see. You’re always glad to help a guy out like that.”
“We’ve had some good conversations,” Sharp said. “You can tell that he’s excited about being an NHL player and he wants to be as good as he can. We’ve talked about equipment and sticks, and certain players, and just hockey in general. It’s always a fun conversation.”
Ritchie has taken those lessons to heart in his first full NHL season.
The big winger has played in 60 games this season and has 18 points, his stat line could improve. But he’s been improving his overall play and has shown signs that he could turn into a potential 20-to-25 goal per season player.
“I’ve been pretty consistent with my play, I’d been locked in more,” Ritchie said. “In previous years I’ve been more streaky in my play. I don’t think I’ve played many bad games this year, I’ve been a little snake bitten at times, but I think I’ve made the most of my opportunity.”
Ritchie will get more opportunities as the season progresses. When Patrick Eaves was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional second-round pick, Ritchie got the call and was put on the top line with Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin (later Tyler Seguin).
“I’m a right winger, he was a right winger,” Ritchie said of the Eaves trade. “So that’s one less job and he was playing ahead of me. And I got the opportunity playing on the line that he was the other night. We would much rather be buyers than sellers, but it is what it is. Just looking at the positive side for me personally that’s an opportunity I’m trying to take advantage of.”
It’s not something he likes to talk about, but Ritchie is also trying to play his way into the Stars top seven forwards for the upcoming NHL expansion draft. The Stars will only be able to protect seven forwards, and Ritchie is near the cut-off and could be left exposed in favor of Antoine Roussel or Eakin.
Ritchie’s solution? Just focus on his play and get better defensively over the final two months of the season, which will feel like an extended tryout for bigger roles after the Stars hit full-seller mode before Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.
“The thing I learned from the start of tyear till now is more of the defensive game,” Ritchie said. “You have to play safe at times, in the minors or wherever it was, you can take more chances. For me it was trying to balance it out, but you need to be responsibly defensively.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Ritchie’s overall play has impressed him.
“Well, he’s been a solid player. He leads our team in even-strength chances. Even last night (against the Tampa Bay Lightning), that line had 10 chances to score and when your line gets that many chances, there’s going to be a couple goals go in,” Ruff said. “He’s been very strong on the puck, he’s been very strong and there were two or three he plays he took to the front of the net. He had the goal that didn’t quite cross the goal line. He had another backhand play that he took hard and the goalie made a good left pad save on. He had a goalpost, he had another slot shot. For me, coming out of camp I was worried about some of his discipline when it would come to taking penalties. He’s really cleaned that up. I think he’s skated well and he’s really done a good job of hanging onto the puck down low. You get Benn and Ritchie on the same line, that’s a big line, that’s two big players.”