The New York Islanders 2nd-round draft pick in 2021, Aatu Raty was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks as part of the deal for captain Bo Horvat on Monday.
At one point in 2020, the Oulu, Finland native was considered a threat to go first overall in the 2021 NHL Draft after he impressed at the World Junior Championship tournament as a 17-year-old and then joined Karpat in Finland’s top professional SM Liiga.
That’s until he over-worked himself training too much during Covid downtime.
Since coming over at the end of last season, Raty has spent most of his time in North America in the AHL and will be assigned to the Abbotsford Canucks initially. He does have two goals in 12 NHL games played for the Islanders. Raty is a 6-foot-2, 190 pound, left-shot centre.
The fine author and reporter Risto Pakarinen wrote about Raty for the Hockey Wanderlüst newsletter the summer he was drafted.
Aatu Räty’s Tough Season Made Him Stronger
After the 2020 World Juniors, a buzz went through Finnish hockey circles. Aatu Räty had made the Finnish World Juniors team, scored three points, and averaged almost 12 minutes a game, least of all, but then again, he was the youngest player in the tournament. Could it be? Could he be [whispers] the first Finn to go first overall in the NHL draft?
Göran Stubb, the NHL director of European Scouting, called Räty “the No. 1 prospect in Europe.”
“Aatu is a strong skater with speed, balance and excellent puck control. Something positive usually happens on every shift, and he’s got a great attitude, works hard both ways and is used on the power play and penalty kill,” he said.
But when the NHL Central Scouting recently released their final rankings, Räty wasn’t number one. He was still ranked third among European skaters, and is now expected to go in the mid to late first round. A dream come true for most kids, and nothing to be ashamed of, but the Finnish dream of getting the first overall pick is over. For now.
Räty had a difficult season, which included being left off the Finnish World Juniors team. He missed one camp due to an illness and he struggled with his play with Oulu Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga, scoring only six points in 35 games. He had a hard time cracking the experienced lineup and with Covid restrictions in place, the club couldn’t send him to the junior without a five-day quarantine both ways.
What did Räty do? He decided to work even harder, and that, says his agent Juha Ylönen*, who played more than 300 games in the NHL, may have contributed to the youngster’s under-performing.
“Part of the problem this season was that Aatu loves to work and work out and in his desire to become a pro athlete he simply overdid it in the off-season,” Ylönen says.
Räty would practice with the team and then head off to another workout on his own. And with the 2019-20 season getting cut short due to the pandemic, what else was he going to do during the long off-season?
“I’ve never had to look for motivation to work out because it’s what I love best, but maybe I did go overboard last season,” he says.
“It was a long off-season and I probably overemphasized endurance over other qualities. I didn’t have the explosiveness I needed when the season began and I probably didn’t rest enough which may have affected my max speed. In the end, I had to ease up on the training,” he adds.
Right now, Räty’s life is all about hockey, which some people also worry about. And there are those who think it’s hard work that has got him this far, rather than his hockey sense and skating.
On the other hand, when he’s played with others his own age, he has produced. In 2018, he scored 45 goals and 96 points in 39 games in the under-16 league in Finland, and in 2019, he scored ten goals and 18 points in six games in the under-18 league.
Räty doesn’t seem too worried about how little he played this season – he averaged about ten minutes a game in Liiga – or the draft rankings.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it was to crack the Kärpät lineup. We had loads of quality players on the team and in Oulu, nobody gets a special treatment, which is how it should be. The coaching staff wanted me to do things that I don’t consider my strengths, but I did become a more complete player. Points don’t tell the whole story, as a fourth-line center I wasn’t expected to produce points,” he says.
“I’m happy I could adjust my game the way the coaches wanted,” he adds.
And you know what they say about adversity and things that don’t kill you.
“Aatu’s a young player who’s had a steep learning curve. He wasn’t used to playing only ten minutes a game or being in the press box. Liiga can be tough for a young player, especially a center, but by the end of the season, he showed that he belonged there,” Ylönen says.
“This season, he learned to play against men. He’ll be much more mature next season.”