Ryan: Bruins fans, it’s okay to admit that Nick Ritchie has been great so far in 2021

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Twitter is an ... *interesting* forum, to put it lightly.

Even though it remains to be seen when exactly fans will be given the green light to return to TD Garden, perusing the various channels of social media at least give us some insight into the pulse of Boston's fan base and their gauge on the product put forth out on the ice.

And, for most of the last five months, the feedback has oftentimes been less than stellar when Nick Ritchie has factored into the discussion.

Bruins fans are as passionate as they are stubborn in their convictions — and the verdict seems to have been already doled out by many when it comes to what Boston has in its trade-deadline pick last February.

Even upon tweeting something as pedestrian as line rushes during skates at Warrior, there stood a good chance there'd be some derision declared in my replies regarding Boston's third-line trio of Charlie Coyle, Craig Smith and ... well, you know who.

Of course, first impressions mean quite a bit — especially in the world of sports — and just about everything that could have gone wrong went wrong when it came to Ritchie arriving on the scene 11 months ago.

Acquired from the Ducks in a one-for-one swap for Danton Heinen, Ritchie struggled to gain traction in Boston's middle-six out of the gate — albeit in just seven total games.

Ritchie with David Krejci: 65:16 of 5v5 ice time together, Boston out-attempted 67-61 (47.66 CF%), minus-5 shot differential, outscored 3-1, 60.98 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage

Ritchie with Charlie Coyle: 15:55 of 5v5 ice time together, Boston out-attempted 16-10 (38.46 CF%), minus-7 shot differential, outscored 2-0, 66.67 Off. Zone Faceoff Percentage

The NHL's Return to Play plans didn't reverse Ritchie's fortunes, with many fans harping on his lack of production (one goal in eight playoff outings) and penalties (namely that five-minute major against Yanni Gourde) as Boston was eventually dismissed from the bubble by the Bolts.

Fair to say, Ritchie was in need of a clean slate.

"He came in late in the year — good hockey team," Cassidy said of Ritchie. "We're trying to figure out where he best fits. Pause happens, no one's really sure what's going on. So I don't know if he felt truly invested in the Bruins yet, because he hadn't spent much time with us. So now you go into a bubble environment. We're manipulating our lineup for the playoffs, etc. Probably doesn't get maybe the opportunity that he was hoping for — the injury to his hand. You know, just a lot of things didn't go well for him. Got called for a penalty that gets reviewed. And then obviously a five minute major that I think they scored on, so it just seemed like he couldn't do anything right. And then we lose."

For many Bruins fans, that small sample size seemed to be enough in terms of painting the full picture of Ritchie as a player. And yet, for as much as long-standing narratives for certain players on this roster have endured for years, it might be high time to start changing the script when it comes to Ritchie.

Yes, I know. It's not a pleasant feeling to admit when you might be wrong. Believe me, it's not fun. I was skeptical about Ritchie's value on this club entering the 2021 season — and I look forward to getting roasted for my early-season predictions that aren't looking too hot at the moment. 

But it's ok — you can admit that, yes, Nick Ritchie has been very good for the Bruins so far in 2021. There's no harm in doing so, and the numbers certainly back up such sentiment.

Yes, Ritchie isn't the most fleet-footed skater out on the ice, nor will he be immune from taking a penalty here or there, but the case needs to be made that Ritchie has been Boston's most consistent forward out of the gate in 2021. Of course, just watching the film would make that rather obvious — given that he's done a great job of planting himself down in Grade-A ice and generating quality looks down low.

Among Bruins players with at least five shots on goal this season, Ritchie leads the pack in terms of