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Is Flames Newcomer Nick Ritchie Good for Huberdeau’s Game?

Nick Ritchie scored in his first game as a member of the Calgary Flames on Monday, and may have given linemate Jonathan Huberdeau more room to move as they beat the Dallas Stars.



Nick Ritchie may not be Anthony Duclair. The Calgary Flames' most notable acquisition at the NHL trade deadline is a bit less flash and more bang than Jonathan Huberdeau's former Florida Panthers linemate. 

That said, the physical presence Ritchie brought to the second line in a 5-4 win over the Dallas Stars on Monday night did seem to add a bit of a spark. And maybe a bit more ice for the dynamic Huberdeau. Maybe Jonathan's pair of assists — including a quick tape-to-tape lead pass to a streaking Tyler Toffoli for the breakaway winner as the seconds ticked away — was a coincidence. Or maybe the things Calgary Flames head coach listed off after Ritchie's debut were the kinds of things that allow Huberdeau to be more like the version of himself who finished second in league scoring a year ago. 

"He gave them a net presence, gave them some corner play, there's some physicality there," Sutter told reporters in Dallas post-game when asked about Ritchie's first game. "So it's up to the two guys with him … veterans gotta elevate their game."

Ritchie scored the game's opening goal, cleaning up in front of the net after a shot from Huberdeau bounced around in front of Jake Oettinger. And while he took a boarding penalty with a few minutes remaining that could have been disastrous, it's expected he'll return to the flank alongside Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri after his successful Flames debut. 

"He's a big guy, he goes and he goes and wins battles and makes some great plays," Huberdeau told Brendan Parker of Flames TV on Tuesday. "I think we created a lot of chances offensively."

It took less than five minutes into the game for Ritchie to score as he got to the net with Huberdeau shooting — yes, shooting — from a distance with his linemates heading to the blue paint. 

"That felt good," Ritchie said. "Getting a goal early helped."

Both the top lines contributed to the offence after some roster changes from Sutter. Energetic rookie Jakob Pelletier moved into Dillon Dube's spot beside Elias Lindholm and Toffoli and both of his new linemates scored. Dube centred Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis. 

With no morning skate, there's no way of knowing whether any of that will change against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, but Walker Duehr and Adam Ruzicka are available if Sutter chooses to utilize one or both of them. 

As far as Ritchie's usage, Sutter said after Brad Treliving acquired him at the trade deadline that he needed to be one of the top forwards to stay in the lineup. He's familiar with Ritchie from their time together in the Anaheim Ducks organization. 

"He's not a guy who sits on the bench and plays well. You can't really slot him into that eight, nine minute role. He's gotta play higher up," Sutter said before the Dallas game. "And if he does, then if he's on his game, he's effective. Otherwise he's not in."

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