Shortly after he was hired as Ducks Coach in June, Randy Carlyle took a trip that almost sounds like a quaint scene from an indie movie.
Following the NHL draft in Buffalo, N.Y., Carlyle made the two-hour drive north to Orangeville, Canada, population 30,729, home of Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie. Carlyle wanted to check in on his new pupil and Ritchie made the trek worthwhile.
"You could tell he had made a commitment," Carlyle said. "His body and makeup was much different. He had an understanding of what was expected of him."
Ritchie, 20, got lean physically, dropping from 232 pounds to 227, and renewed mentally. It has translated to chemistry and stability on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the Ducks' first six games.
The players the Ducks have tried with Getzlaf and Perry over the years is too long to list. But Ritchie is a power-forward type who creates more room and does the dirty work much like former Ducks winger Matt Beleskey did several seasons ago.
Carlyle cautions that he expects Ritchie to produce playing with Getzlaf and Perry. Ritchie took that cue with his first goal Sunday. He didn't score his first goal until his 25th game last season.
"I haven't been disappointed with my play or anything, but it's nice to get one," Ritchie said. "As a line, I've got to give those guys a lot of credit. When they play like that, we're definitely a real tough team to beat."
Perry said it helps that he and Getzlaf are more familiar with Ritchie. Last season, Ritchie spent some time on Anaheim's defensive line with Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg so there wasn't as much offensive opportunity.
Ritchie is averaging about five minutes more ice time than his rookie season, including time on the power play. It all contributes to more comfort in an increased role.
"I think the last couple of games are some of the best games that he's played since he's been around," Perry said. "To get a goal and to have the offensive zone pressure and have the puck a lot, it's definitely confidence. If we can get him going, it's a definitely an advantage for our line."
Perry's ice time
Perry is averaging more than 20 minutes per game, a big jump from the 17:42 minutes and 18:06 minutes he averaged the last two seasons. Carlyle said it has been out of necessity, although the numbers are not skewed by penalty killing because Perry typically isn't used until the end of kills.
It could be seen as a shift in philosophy from former coach Bruce Boudreau to Carlyle, who played Getzlaf and Perry more during his first tenure as well. It's also in line with the playing time of comparable elite forwards like Joe Pavelski of San Jose and Patrick Kane of Chicago.
"It keeps you involved," Perry said. "Anything to help the team in any way, you want to be out there and you want to do that."
DUCKS NEXT UP
AT SAN JOSE
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: SAP Center.
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 830.