On Tuesday, the Nashville Predators announced the re-signing of forward Anthony Richard to a one-year, two-way contract. The 2015 fourth-round pick has played the last four seasons in Milwaukee since graduating from the QMJHL’s Val-d’Or in 2016.
By The Numbers
A dynamic scoring threat in junior hockey, Richard has shown serious flashes of skill and NHL potential during his pro career. It seems like a decade ago that he was struggling in his first year in Milwaukee, scoring just 16 points and being demoted to a five-game stint in the ECHL. But since then, his offensive stock has risen consistently, as he scored 36 points in 2017-18 and 47 in 2018-19.
Before the 2019-20 season, I projected Richard to have a breakout year and hit the 60-point threshold. Obviously, he fell well short of those expectations, registering just 14 goals and 23 points in 60 games. But let’s have a look at why.
Despite his low point totals, Richard was one of Milwaukee’s better forwards when it came to Corsi share (55.78%), even though he was often relegated to third line minutes.
Despite his minimal ice time—Richard roughly averaged just the ninth-most minutes of all Milwaukee forwards this season—he was still a high-end shot contributor per 60 minutes (15.25). Regardless, a new role in 2019-20 certainly had a negative effect on Richard’s production. Despite shooting at a 12.5% rate, he recorded just 1.89 shots per game—a significant decrease from 2.10 and 2.20 in the two seasons prior.
Richard was still a dominant transition player with the puck on his stick, highlighting part of the reason I’m not too concerned about his regression this season. Richard exited the defensive zone with possession 62.96% of the time and entered the offensive zone with possession 62.75% of the time. It seems clear to me his decreased ice time is the defining factor in his offensive production, but nevertheless, I would anticipate a significant rebound next year.
The Scouting Tape
Richard’s utility on the ice is obvious almost immediately: speed. His skating skill has been his calling card since before he was drafted, and he’s one of the better players in the AHL at producing offense with pace.
One under-appreciated aspect of Richard’s speed is his ability to set the pace and depth of a transition play. Take this play above: Richard swings towards the puck carrier concentrating defensive focus on one side of the ice before springing wide into a perfect angle to receive a neutral zone pass. All of sudden his pace has freed up the shooter (Eeli Tolvanen) and simultaneously allowed Michael McCarron to get to the net front.
This play against Cleveland is another excellent example. Richard turns a broken play deep in his own zone into a quick transition that results in a scoring chance down ice just six seconds later.
Naturally, Richard excels with the puck off the rush. He’s made a living the past few seasons burning defenders to the outside before cutting into the slot and putting home an easy goal. In the play above, the Rockford defender is maybe a step behind in his pivot but his gap control is solid, and Richard still blows completely past him.
Still, this season was certainly a difficult one for Richard on the scoresheet. Plays like the one above were far too common. Richard still manages to beat the San Antonio defender with ease and puck control, but he fumbles the puck and loses it into a corner with nothing to show for his excellent transition.
In this play, Richard makes an excellent defensive play, forcing a turnover, and quickly turns up ice for a breakout. Richard creates good space in transition through the neutral zone spacing out defenders but simply doesn’t have the speed or puck control to make it into the zone—another too-common play this season.
Even if you’re down on Richard’s chances of becoming a full-time NHL player one day, he’s still a supremely talented AHL player worth keeping in the organization. Aside from his offensive skill, he’s one of the best forecheckers Milwaukee has. He’s able to cover the entire width of the rink, forcing sloppy breakouts or errors in transition from the opposition.
And, of course, Richard is a near guarantee with the puck around the net. His instinct to control space in all three zones is unparalleled. In this play, as Rem Pitlick pulls away from the puck battle with possession, Richard closes in forcing the Cleveland defender to shift away from the slot. He then pulls back—into a wide open high-danger area—and puts a goal home with no chance of a save.
Richard’s follow-up deal to his entry-level contract is one year in duration with a cap hit of $735K and an AHL salary of $65K. Upon expiry, he’ll be a restricted free agent.
Milwaukee now has 12 forwards under contract for next season with Michael McCarron, Daniel Carr, Rem Pitlick and Frédérick Gaudreau as the remaining free agents. Colin Blackwell and Yakov Trenin will need new contracts as well.