You would totally be forgiven for skipping most or all of Friday’s first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The Islanders didn’t have a pick (courtesy of the Kyle Palmieri trade) and didn’t participate in any trades while seemingly half the league was moving bodies and picks all over the place.
But just before 1 pm on Saturday, halfway through a timeout-slowed second round, the Islanders were finally on the clock. And they, perhaps surprisingly, came away with a prospect that was, at one time, considered a first round talent if not a possibility for a first overall selection.
Aatu Räty, a center from Oulunsalo, Finland, was never expected to fall this far. The center, currently playing for Karpat of Liiga, aka the Finnish Elite League, was projected as a top NHL selection as a 15-year-old. But the mounting pressure of high level play, bouncing around leagues and pandemic stoppages all contributed to him struggling this season, resulting in his missing the cut for Finland’s world junior team. He pushed himself so hard that coaches had to tell him to slow down at practice and keep him legs more fresh for games.
Räty briefly “lost his joy” for the game, and those around him noticed the change.
But he came around again late in the season, and told The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (in a very interesting in-depth interview) that he’s ready to work his way to the NHL.
“I don’t think that there’s any difference if I get selected in the first round, or the second round, or any round. I know many players from Finland who’ve made it from the seventh round to the NHL,” Räty said. “I just know that you have to work hard and when you’re an NHL-level player, you’re going to get there. It doesn’t matter how I get there, just that I do. And I will.”
NHL Central Scouting had Räty ranked as the third best European skater overall, and director Dan Marr still has a high projection for the 6-foot-2 center:
“When you have a prospect who showed you his skill set, his smarts, his NHL attributes as an underager, and he did it consistently for a full year playing above his age with different peer groups, you can’t fake that,” said Marr, admitting Central Scouting has the luxury of simply focusing on potential, absent the risk faced by teams who have to draft the players.
“In life, things happen as you grow and develop, so things have happened here that have affected his development this year, but we don’t let that affect the projection.”
He’s still contracted to Karpat and is expected to play there this season.
Aatu Raty said he believes he'll play next season in Finland, under contract for one more season. Says he learned a lot from last season, a hard league to play in, believes he will be better for it.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) July 24, 2021
His page at EliteProspects.com shows a host of rankings that had Räty much higher than No. 52. Draft picks are almost always a crapshoot but as of right now, it seems like the Islanders may have a steal on their hands.
At least, it feels that way given how many people I’ve seen who are pissed off that Räty fell to them.
Update: He’s happy to come to the Islanders! So that’s good.