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Nick Ritchie of the Peterborough Petes

Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Nick Ritchie didn't see it, but he sure heard about it.

Ritchie was busy playing for the Peterborough Petes on Oct. 11, the night hockey commentator Don Cherry lambasted the Toronto Maple Leafs on his season-opening instalment of Coach's Corner for drafting a small Swedish forward instead of the Orangeville, Ont., native.

"They pass on a guy who is six foot three, 230 pounds and had 130 penalty minutes," Cherry ranted during the segment. "Only three guys in the draft had more goals than Ritchie!"

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By time his Petes finished their game in Plymouth, somebody had already sent a link of Coach's Corner to Ritchie's Twitter account.

"Obviously I thought it was pretty cool. Any time you are getting mentioned on TV like that, it's a pretty cool thing," Ritchie said. "Don says what he thinks and I agree with him on this one."

Ritchie said he grew up in a household full of Maple Leafs fans and admitted when it was Toronto's turn to make its selection on June 27 at Wells Fargo Centre in Philadelphia, he expected to hear his name called.

"I wouldn't say I was a super fan or anything, but it would have been cool to have been picked by Toronto," Ritchie said. "It didn't happen so you move on."

Toronto picked William Nylander with the eighth overall selection. Ritchie was selected 10th overall by the Anaheim Ducks.

So what exactly did the Maple Leafs pass on?

Ritchie is one of the most physically imposing players in the Ontario Hockey League. Last season, his third in the OHL, Ritchie was 26th in league scoring with 39 goals and 74 points with 136 penalty minutes in 61 games.

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Scouts insist he has high-end pro potential, but is still searching for consistency in his game. His style of play has drawn comparisons to Cam Neely and Todd Bertuzzi.

Peterborough coach Jody Hull described Ritchie as an outgoing, funny kid who likes to be the centre of attention in the dressing room. Hull said Ritchie is a leader — he served as alternate captain the last two seasons — who is respected by his teammates and is eager to learn and improve.

"When he speaks, the others listen," Hull said. "He's the type of player who demands respect because of what he does on the ice."

Ritchie came away from his first training camp with the Ducks impressed at how hard professional players work at their game on a daily basis and he wants to be an impact player.

"Nick is a power forward who knows how to put the puck in the net and can make some pretty good plays offensively, but then he also has that element of playing tough," Hull said. "He's physical and when he hits you, he hits you hard and you know you have been hit by Nick Ritchie."

Ritchie said he models his game after Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, but added he learned a lot watching top scorers Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry at Anaheim's training camp.

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"They are big, like me, and skilled offensive guys who work very hard at their game," Ritchie said.

With Ritchie's robust style of play there comes risks. Hull suggested Ritchie is occasionally penalized on clean hits simply because he is so big.

Whether that was the case in Game 7 of Peterborough's first-round series against Kingston last spring is open to debate, but nevertheless Ritchie was assessed a cross-checking penalty late in the third period for hammering Roland McKeown into the boards with the score tied 1-1.

It could have ended in disaster for Ritchie and the Petes.

The Frontenacs had finished 14 points ahead of the Petes in the regular season and had won the first three games of the series and here was Peterborough, playing on the road, on the verge of scoring a stunning upset with its best player in the penalty box.

Ritchie watched nervously as the Petes killed off the penalty. Then he made amends.

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"You never want to put your team in a situation like that, especially in a Game 7," Ritchie said, "but we killed (the penalty) off pretty good. It was tough for me to watch from the penalty box and when I got out I felt like I owed the team something."

Ritchie scored the series-winning goal at 12:17 of overtime.

"I just shot the puck on net and hoped for the best," Ritchie said.

The Petes were swept by the Oshawa Generals in the second round.

Peterborough (3-6-1-2) is off to a sluggish start this season with just nine points over its first 12 games. Ritchie leads the team with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) with 29 PIM.

"I feel like we are starting to play well," Ritchie said. "I know we will be better."

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