Ask Matty: Dallas Stars won’t let go of Brett Ritchie
No way that Edmonton Oilers will get hold of big forward; now playing for OHL’s Ice Dogs
Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber, bottom left, dives for the puck as Edmonton Oilers center Jordan Eberle shoots on Predators goalie Pekka Rinne during the first period Friday, March 8, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn.
Photograph by: Mark Humphrey, AP
Q: What would the Edmonton Oilers have to give up to pry Brett Ritchie from the Dallas Stars? He played with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the world junior championship and he has the size the Oilers need.
(CK in Vancouver)
A: Ritchie has the size every team’s looking for, not just the Oilers. He’s six-foot-four and 215 pounds and scored 41 goals in 53 games for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs this season. The second-round 2011 Stars draft pick doesn’t have a mean bone in his body; he kind of reminds me of a younger Dustin Penner, getting just 40 to 50 penalty minutes a season. But, the right-winger isn’t getting dealt to anybody. The Stars are into a rebuild mode and the last thing they want to do is give up a 19-year-old. He did look good when he played with Nugent-Hopkins, but there’s no chance the Oilers are getting him, not before the Stars see what has as a pro. Nice thought, though.
Q: We know the Oilers are waiting for their defence prospects to get to the big club in a year or two. Outside of their best prospect Oscar Klefbom, who do you think is their best blue-line prospect?
A: I was driving the other day and Craig Button of the TSN-NHL Network, and former Calgary Flames GM, said Klefbom reminded him of Brent Seabrook when he was asked by Oilers radio colourman Bob Stauffer on his daily show. I almost drove off the road when Button came out with that comparison. Seabrook, Duncan Keith’s longtime partner in Chicago, could be on Canada’s Olympic team in Sochi, reprising his 2010 Vancouver gold-medal work. I know Martin Marincin of the Oklahoma City Barons still rates highly with the organization, but he has to put some muscle on his lanky chassis. David Musil and Martin Gernat are with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and are years away from being NHLers. I’m hearing very good things about Craig Simpson’s son, Dillon, who’s in his third year at North Dakota. He didn’t play much as a freshman, but every year he’s had more ice time with the perennially good Fighting Sioux. I guess Marincin is the closest to being an NHLer, but he’s hardly a slam-dunk as Klefbom is — a top 2 defenceman in every NHL scouting book. I’d be interested in seeing how far Simpson comes. He only turned 20 in February and has played three years at North Dakota, plays some point on the power play (24 points in 40 games), gets some work against the other team’s top lines, but is still the third youngest player on the team. The business student plans on finishing his degree, which means the Oilers won’t sign him until 2014. He’ll be a two-way defenceman. Adam Tambellini, son of Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, is currently playing in the B.C. Junior League and will be attending North Dakota next season.
Q: I was at the recent Detroit Red Wings-Oilers game and noticed how much Detroit had the puck because they won faceoffs. This has been an issue for many years with the Oilers and while Eric Belanger is pretty good on faceoffs, the rest of his game is woefully lacking to me. This problem of faceoffs seems to have been ignored for too long.
A: The Oilers are one of the NHL’s three worst teams in the faceoff circle. You’re right about Belanger, he’s 53.8 per cent in 353 draws, which puts him 22nd in the league. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is tops with 61.8. Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff has slipped some to 50 per cent on 232 draws, but he’s been playing with his hand heavily protected from a broken knuckle. Sam Gagner is 42.3 per cent in a team-high 423 draws and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is at 41.6 on 377 faceoffs. Veteran winger Ryan Smyth, filling in as a fourth-line centre, is 41.1 per cent on 129 draws. When Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins, your top two offensive guys, can’t win more than 50 per cent of their faceoffs, it obviously means the team is chasing the play to get the puck back. Maybe Gagner, their leading scorer this season, would be better served to be a winger. But in many cases, the Oilers’ retrieval off draws with the other guys on the ice is very poor. It’s not always the centre’s fault. When the Oilers move next year to the new Pacific Division and play more games against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, two of the best in the league, that’s going to be a concern, for sure. The Oilers were interested in signing Vern Fiddler (Dallas Stars) as well in 2011, as a free agent, but the hometown centre decided to go to the Stars. Belanger’s work in the faceoff circle is certainly exemplary, but you are right, his offence is negligible. He has just four goals in 100 games for the Oilers.
Q: Can you tell me what’s the rationale for Oilers GM Steve Tambellini’s to sign Andy Sutton this year. It certainly was a good contract for Andy, but did Tambellini not know he would need season-ending surgery?
A: Actually, Sutton was signed in February 2012, two weeks before the trade deadline last season. He injured his knee seriously while working out last summer. The Oilers have him on long-term injury, which means they have to pay him his $1.75-million salary, but he doesn’t count against their salary cap. Sutton was signed for several reasons. He was a critical voice in the room, he’s very professional, he’s big at six-foot-six and 245 pounds, he’s tough, has some offensive punch and the Oilers felt he would be a transitional player for one more season. Frankly, the Oilers miss him. Opposing players didn’t like going up against him. His hockey career is likely over at 38, but he’s a smart guy. He graduated with a degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Tech.
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