The Toronto Maple Leafs signing spree continues as the team has agreed to a two-year contract with left-winger Nick Ritchie. The deal comes with a cap hit of $2.5 million. The team is hoping Ritchie will fit in as a top-six forward.
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After a flurry of moves to kick off free agency on Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs have remained busy. The team took another low-risk chance on Ondrej Kase, hoping for a bounceback from injury. Ritchie is the latest Maple Leafs signing designed to add depth at forward for a team up against the cap.
Toronto’s management is trying as many options as possible to replace the production of Zach Hyman. The fan favourite was lost to the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent. This feels like buying lottery tickets or throwing darts blindly and hoping something sticks.
Ritchie is a fine player, and most of Toronto’s forward signings are NHL-calibre. However, none of them can be expected to pick up the slack for Hyman, who could play throughout the lineup but was best on the top line.
Maple Leafs signing of Ritchie adds depth to forward group
Anyone expecting that Ritchie is a natural top-six forward will likely be disappointed. While the former first-rounder will get a look on the top two lines, it will be out of necessity. Ritchie could click with one of those lines and flourish. It should be noted that he has become an increasingly valuable player over the years and is still young.
The team has four forwards entrenched in the top-six: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. After that, virtually anyone could have a shot and likely will get a look. Holdovers like Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev may see some time. Prospect Nick Robertson has the look of someone who fits but needs more conditioning with the Marlies.
Michael Bunting was signed on Thursday with the hope that he could flourish with other skill players around him. Ritchie is more proven and was selected 10th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. In 350 career regular-season games, the Orangeville, ON native has 59 goals and 78 assists.
Physicality set to increase after latest Maple Leafs signing
It is the physical play that will endear him to fans as the 25-year-old has accumulated 387 penalty minutes in his career. He could be a Hyman-lite player if he is added to the star lines. Given his age, Ritchie could also ascend further as Hyman did in his career. It is doubtful Toronto is expecting that much of him and would be wise not to.
In a worst-case scenario, the Leafs now have a solid third-line winger. The team is hoping that Ritchie, along with their other additions, has made the entire forward group better. On paper, that is hard to see at the moment.
Barring a change of direction related to the ‘Core Four’, this is what Toronto will be looking at for the next three or four seasons. Hoping that some low-cost signings pan out and the young stars continue to grow. There simply is not much wiggle room when so much of your cap is tied up in four players.
What do you think of the Maple Leafs signing Nick Ritchie? Where do you think he fits best in the lineup? Let us know in the comments below.