PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Aatu Raty is on a mission to prove that he’s one of the best players in the 2021 NHL Draft despite being selected in the second round.
Raty (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), who was chosen by the New York Islanders with the No. 52 pick on the second day of the draft on Saturday, offered a glimpse of his potential just hours after being selected by scoring four goals for Finland in a 5-2 exhibition win against Sweden at USA Hockey Arena during the first day of the World Junior Summer Showcase.
“I’m playing a more simple game now and focusing on the little things,” Raty said. “I want to earn the coaches’ trust. I think I’m better at face-offs, driving to the net.”
The left-handed center, who plays with Karpat in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, was ecstatic to learn he had been picked by the Islanders.
“When I got word it was the Islanders, I was super excited to be part of the organization and super grateful to have the honor to be their first pick (in the 2021 draft),” Raty said. “They’re a good team, they’ve had some deep playoff runs for the past few years and I like the way they play. … Good defense. They might not have the superstar players, but they still play great hockey and have a good coaching staff.”
Lou Lamoriello, Islanders president and general manager, was equally happy Raty was still available.
“Yes, we were surprised that he was where he was at,” Lamoriello said. “We’re extremely pleased with that pick.”
It wasn’t long ago that the native of Oulunsalo, Finland, was considered by many to be a top-3 selection in the 2021 draft. In fact, in June 2020, Goran Stubb, the NHL director of European Scouting, said Raty “at present, he’s the No. 1 prospect in Europe.”
Fast-forward 13 months, and he instead was the 18th International prospect off the board.
The drop came after a difficult season for Raty, who scored six points (three goals, three assists) and had 80 shots on goal while averaging 11:38 of ice time in 35 games for Karpat.
He also wasn’t invited to Finland’s select camp for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship after scoring three points (two goals, one assists) in seven games as a 17-year-old at the 2020 WJC.
“It was a tough season for me on [Karpat], but I played for one of the best organizations in Finland,” Raty said. “I think it’s one of the most defensive leagues in the whole world, so we just had better centers than I, so I couldn’t get any minutes. I don’t know if (Edmonton Oilers center Connor) McDavid is going to score when he’s playing eight minutes (a game).”
Stubb said expectations prior to the 2021 draft might have been overwhelming for Raty.
“The talent was always there,” Stubb said. “He just had a tough season; there were a lot of expectations on him. He made the Karpat league team, and Karpat is one of the top clubs in Finland and has been for so many years. They had a tough season, though, and when you’re a young player on a struggling team, it’s not easy to play up to your own standard. I still think Raty will be a [heck] of a hockey player, he just had a rough season.”
Antti Pennanen, Finland’s national junior team coach, said he likes what he’s seen in Raty at the World Junior Summer Showcase. The camp is the first step in picking the rosters for the 2022 WJC, which will be held in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, from Dec. 26-Jan. 5.
“His mindset is way better than last season because I think he had a lot of expectation, and I’m not sure how he handled those expectations, but now he’s open-minded and he’s handling this kind of situation better at the moment,” Pennanen said. “I think he’s improving his game all the time and he had a chance to play with the men (in Karpat) last season. I think those games helped him and now he’s a better player for sure. But, let’s see how it goes. He’s young and I don’t want to give him too many expectations.”
Forward Brad Lambert, a potential top-5 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft who represented Finland at the 2021 WJC, said Raty will prove to everyone why he should have been selected higher in the 2021 draft.
“He’s unbelievable with the puck, has got great hands … his playmaking is unbelievable,” Lambert said “I believe last year he really didn’t get the opportunity. But, for real, he should have gone in the top 10 of this draft. I mean, he’s an unbelievable player who just didn’t get the opportunity last year.”