Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

At the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, the Colorado Avalanche were among the few teams to have multiple first-round picks, including their original pick at 27 and pick 31, which they received in the deal that sent Alex Newhook to the Montreal Canadiens in return for other compensation (that pick originally came from the Florida Panthers when they traded for Ben Chariot when he was with the Canadiens.)

Calum Ritchie, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With pick 31, the Avalanche selected Mikhail Gulyayev, a defenseman from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). At pick 27, they selected Calum Ritchie from the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Oshawa Generals, with whom I was lucky enough to sit down with and discuss the draft process, his time in the OHL, and what the future holds.

Ritchie’s Experience Throughout The Draft

The 18-year-old from Oakville, Ontario, was like many draftees who dreamed of that moment since they first started playing and being able to make a living off playing hockey. He explained the sheer joy he, his friends, and his family felt after finally hearing his name called and how the next 24 to 48 hours were all a blur.

“Yeah, it was unreal that night. It was all kind of a blur after I got picked… my phone was blowing up from all my friends and family back home and my teammates, coaches, everyone, so it was a great night, and it was all kind of a blur, It was just best time of my life.”

Ritchie is the kind of center every team dreams of having. With his impressive size, 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he boasts a complete skill set that makes him a valuable asset in all situations. When he’s healthy, he’s unstoppable. After the draft, Ritchie was approached by many Avalanche players, who reached out to celebrate his accomplishment and offer their best wishes.

“Yeah, (Nathan) MacKinnon texted me, asking me to call him, so next morning I was able to give him a call, which is obviously really cool, It was unreal, and then Landeskog texted me, Makar, Devon Toews and then also Cogliano.”

Ritchie’s Time And Growth In The OHL

Drafted second overall in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection and entering his third season with the Generals, Ritchie looks to continue to grow in his game. He expressed gratitude for the support of the Generals’ staff in helping him develop as a player and making sure to stay healthy and fit at all times.

Yeah, it’s been great, obviously, first class organization, I don’t think there’s a better place to play in junior hockey, so I’m really just glad I was selected by them and that I’m playing here, I think I’ve developed my game a lot while playing here, and obviously, with my shoulder and stuff, the trainers have been great helping me with that. Yeah, I can’t thank them enough.”

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Staying healthy has been challenging for Ritchie as he has been dealing with shoulder injuries the past few seasons. He tore his labrum at the Hlinka Tournament in 2022-23 and had to get surgery to repair it. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring issue that has happened three times in the past year. Thankfully, not only have the Generals helped him out with his training and recovery, but Andrew Cogliano has reached out to advise him on how to deal with these issues.

I think when he texted me, saying that he could help me with my shoulder, that was awesome for me, and obviously a guy I grew up watching a lot of… Kind of really shows how dialed in they are. And he’s a great leader, obviously, he’s helping out some 18-year-old kid with an injury, right? So, I mean, he obviously cares a lot about the organization, so I’m just really happy part of it.”

Ritchie missed the start of this season after undergoing surgery to repair his shoulder, and the Generals got off to a cold start. Now back with the team, he has five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in 13 games, and the Generals sit just six points back from the top of the East Division. Ritchie expressed his gratitude for being back on the ice so quickly after the operations. He also emphasized the team’s mood in the locker room now that they’re on a three-game winning streak.

You don’t win championships in October/November, we gotta have a good second half here and put ourselves in a good spot into playoffs, and then obviously, anything can happen in playoffs, but I think we have the team that can do it. Right now, we are kinda focusing on what we can control, and that’s just coming in and working hard every day and just trying to improve.

What The Future Holds For Ritchie

He understands the pressure of being a first-round draft pick and recognizes the trust that president of hockey operations Joe Sakic and general manager Chris MacFarland have placed in him to become the best hockey player he can be. He takes ownership of his work and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of his game in order to improve. Nathan Mackinnon’s game serves as an inspiration to Ritchie, who observes the hard work Mackinnon puts into his own game. Ritchie applies this same level of dedication to his own performance and works hard to improve by adopting Mackinnon’s work ethic and approach.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ritchie is determined to improve his skills and become the best player he can be. He understands and welcomes the pressure from fans who have put their trust in him to become the next generational center for the team. He knows it will motivate him and that everything he has achieved in his young career is putting him on the right path.

I think there’s always expectations, and I think thats a great thing, having pressure means your doing something right, and people expect stuff from you. I think I expect a lot from myself, so I’m not too worried, the expectations for myself are higher then anything in the media. I’ve always had that growing up, so its kinda a good thing to deal with”.

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