SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The future of the NHL was on display at War Memorial Arena in Syracuse for the AHL All-Star Classic, and some players came into the weekend already with a taste of what it’s like to play in the NHL.
San Diego Gulls forward Nick Ritchie (Petes 2011-2015), Utica Comets forward Hunter Shinkaruk, and St. John’s Ice Caps forward Michael McCarron have all had different experiences in the NHL this season, but have excelled in the American Hockey League.
Ritchie played 11 games with the Anaheim Ducks between Nov. 16 and Dec. 6, but in 30 games with the Gulls he’s scored 15 goals and 26 points. Ritchie, the 10th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, has learned a lot in his first season as a professional, but he knows it will take more for him to become an everyday NHL player.
“There is a step there,” Ritchie said. “It’s good to play here in the American League; it’s a really good league. You’ve just got to round out your game and get back to the NHL as fast as possible. Obviously the NHL game is faster, so that’s the stuff you’re working on down here.”
Ritchie was part of the Western Conference team that defeated the Eastern Conference at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition 19-14 on Sunday. Ritchie reached 99.2 miles per hour in the Hardest Shot competition and did not score in the breakaway relay. Having a hard slap shot is just one of Ritchie’s tools he’s using to score goals in the AHL, but he realizes rounding out his game is the way back to the NHL.
“I had a chance to play some games this year and got to see some of those guys and how they practice and how they play,” Ritchie said. “I think I’ve [taken] a little bit from that and they all do unique things. I think all the really good players in that League do one or two things really well that makes them who they are. I think if I find out that little part of my game then I’ll be OK.”