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Tuchman: Aatu Räty, a steal at 52? or fools gold?

The New York Islanders’ first selection in the draft was in the 2nd round – 52nd overall.

The facts:

Aatu Räty – 6’1”, born November 14th, 2002

Once considered a sure-fire top ten pick and a possible #1 overall in the draft, the center from Finland is now one of this year’s biggest wild cards.

What’s to like?

He’s got great hands and battles hard in the corners. He’s a big kid – not huge mind you, but certainly not afraid to get dirty. He’s been working on his defensive game. He’s not a great skater, but he’s deceptively strong on his skates and is a very good playmaker.

As a fifteen-year-old, he played against older kids and lit the scoresheets up. In Finland’s top under-20 (U20) league, he scored 17 goals and assisted on 14 others as a 16-year old. He looked like a bona fide star. 

But then the wheels fell off the tracks.

During the 2019-2020 season playing against the SAME competition,  he scored 2 goals in 30 games. He wasn’t any better in Finland’s top professional league. Over two seasons (2019-2021), Raty had 5 goals in 47 games. He was eventually sent down to play in the country’s top junior league where he wasn’t dominant as he probably should’ve been. 

It’s an enormous red flag to see a player’s production drop that sharply especially during a period of their lives where they should be getting better every year. Not to mention, this is a player who, in theory, was getting top coaching and experience from Finland’s national program.

In 2020, he played for Finland at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (WJC) and had 2 goals, 1 assist in 7 games … the next year, he didn’t make the team. 

Read More – Tuchman: What if Lou Lamoriello surprised us all with Dougie Hamilton?

What happened?

As mentioned, he struggled badly in Finland’s top league. He wasn’t playing as much. Couple that with the issues COVID-19 presented and it was a tough year. In addition, add the pressure of being that good that young.

Scott Wheeler from the Athletic wrote a great piece on Räty and went into the pressures of being the possible #1 overall pick and how that might have weighed on the teenager.

Scouts are all over the place on Räty. I saw some scouting services rank Räty as high as 10th overall and there were some teams that didn’t think he was worthy of even a 5th round selection.

I am on the record (on Twitter @tuckonsports) saying that I don’t think it was a good pick. To me, the risks are too great and while the vast majority of second-round picks don’t end up finding success in the NHL, I thought there were better options at 52. Yes, 2020 was a difficult year for everyone and there’s no doubt that this could have adversely affected Räty more than his peers. That said, he wasn’t great at the end of 2019 either. I find it much more likely that he’s just an amazing athlete who probably peaked before his peers and was able to dominate them. To me, it’s very concerning to see a developing prospect get worse at this age relative to his competition.

Of course, I went on Twitter and said all these things and Räty made me look stupid as he went off scoring four goals vs Sweden in a World Junior Summer Showcase game.

General manager, Lou Lamoriello, obviously thought the upside for Räty was worth the risk and at this point, we should all know better than to question Lou. While I remain skeptical about Räty’s future in the NHL, I’ll be cheering for him to make me look stupid for the next 15 years.

Follow David on Twitter @tuckonsports

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