Up until the last minute, it really looked like Calum Ritchie was going No. 1 at the OHL draft last spring.
He didn't get to play in an official capacity last year, but Ritchie appeared to be the top prospect in Ontario regardless. But when American Quinten Musty decided to go the major junior route, Sudbury made him the No. 1 pick, pushing Ritchie down to No. 2 in Oshawa.
You won't find Oshawa complaining. Before leaving off to represent Canada Black at the Capital City Challenge last week, Ritchie had 19 points in 16 games to make him one of the team's most dangerous scoring weapons. In fact, in five fewer games, Ritchie holds a two-point advantage over Musty and five points over former Oakville Rangers teammate Nick Lardis for the rookie scoring lead.
Speaking of Oakville, it was a shame Ritchie and his long-time friends couldn't show off what they were capable of. A total of 16 Rangers players were drafted last year, with five of them going in the first round. That's the most ever in the first round in OHL history, and they tied the 2004 Richmond Hill Stars for the most players selected by one team.
And Ritchie appears to be the best.
Ritchie will play in the championship team with Canada Black on Wednesday, facing off against another randomized Canadian team, Canada Red. Ritchie enters the game second in scoring with eight points in four games, highlighted by a hat-trick on Nov. 29 against Canada White in a five-point effort.
"It's been unreal," Ritchie said about playing for Canada for the first time. "The friendships I've made and all the experience that I've learned. It's been an experience of a lifetime."
Among the over 60 players Ritchie has been able to play with or against are a handful of his former Oakville teammates. He called playing with and against them a great part of the overall experience.
"They're all great players and we're all really great friends and we're really close," Ritchie said. "Really good competition for sure."
It's no surprise that Ritchie played so well. He's a top prospect for the 2023 NHL draft, a one that's definitely looking to be pretty top-loaded. Matvei Michkov, Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Dalibor Dvorsky, Brayden Yager, Riley Heidt, Alex Weiermair and Musty, among others, look ready to turn the draft world on its head.
"Ritchie has a bright future ahead of him," an Ontario-based scout said. "He can shoot better than most of his age group and he just has an overall play that makes him reliable in most game situations. He doesn't need to be flashy to be good."
The way he shoots, Ritchie feels like a baseball pitcher with how deceptive it can be at times. By that, few of his wrist shots in succession look the same in the way he uses his release. Away from the puck, he's everything you'd expect out of a top prospect: reliable in his own zone, backchecking by all costs and while he's not physical, he can handle bodychecks without taking him out of the play.
Ritchie will return home in the coming days and slot back into Oshawa's top six as the team continues to battle in a challenging Eastern Conference. Playing for Canada was a good personal experience for Ritchie, but it also allowed him to thrive in a situation with the rest of the nation's top young talent while working with high-end coaches.
"It's always good to kind of learn new things," Ritchie said about his experience with new coaches. "I'm just kind of just trying to learn as much as I can, soak up this whole experience and just bring it back to Oshawa."
Ritchie still has a while to go before the 2023 NHL draft, and he's making up for a lost season in a big way. This was just another piece of the pie for the 16-year-old.