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Aatu Räty: 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: A Project Forward Who Has Slipped in Rankings

Prior to this season, Aatu Räty may have been considered one of the top forwards in the Draft. A disappointing season in the Finnish Liiga squandered that perception.

2020 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, Semifinals: Canada vs Finland
Raty defending during World Juniors in 2020.
Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

With the fourth pick in the NHL Draft, as well as one of the bottom picks of the first round due to the New York Islanders’ playoff success, there are some first round prospects that could only be selected by the New Jersey Devils if they fall from their rankings on Draft Night. For Aatu Räty, that would just be a continuation of his Draft Year, which has seen him slip from being one of the potential top five picks of the draft to being a mid-first round prospect mostly on prior reputation.

Who is Aatu Räty?

Aatu Räty is 6’1”, 181 pound center from Oulunsalo, Finland who plays for Kärpät of the Finnish Liiga. He was born on November 14, 2002, and is therefore one of the older players eligible for the Draft. Räty has been playing for Kärpät for years now, playing through their juniors system since he was 14 years old.

After tearing International Juniors apart for years, the rest of the Draft Class seems to have caught up to Räty.
Elite Prospects

However, after being an absolute revelation between 2017 and 2018-19, Räty’s game seems to have leveled out. This is concerning for any prospect, but even more so for a projected first rounder. By the time Räty was 16, he had completely outgrown U18 hockey in Finland, scoring a ridiculous three points per game before being brought to U20 Juniors. A glance at his statistics here may indicate that he was moved through the levels too quickly, as he was never able to play a full season at U20 where he scored more than a point per game, which he had done multiple times in U16. He only did so in U18 in partial seasons, as well. This is a situation where it just confuses me why he was playing in the men’s league at all this past season, as scoring six points in 35 games does little to help either him or Kärpät. In my opinion, he would have been better off getting top minutes in a full season of U20, or at least another 75%-25% split between Juniors and Liiga like 2019-20.

Where is Räty Ranked?

Aatu Räty is all over the place in Draft Rankings, in part due to his prior success.

What Others Have Said About Räty

Josh Glazer of Dobber Prospects wrote an article in March titled, “What Happened to the Aatu Räty of 2018-19?” This is an apt title, as I cannot imagine ranking him as high as even Dobber Prospects did. Glazer notes that Räty has declined in production over the years, being overtaken by prospects such as Matt Beniers and William Eklund after being considered “the best player in his age group” just a couple seasons ago. Then Glazer notes, “Two seasons ago, his U20 production was hanging with names like Laine, Rantanen, and Barkov, but he hasn’t been able to match their pace since then at the next level.” And this is most notable in comparison to Anton Lundell, who was selected 12th overall in the last NHL Draft. In their respective Draft Years, Lundell scored over three times more points per game than Räty. Yet, some writers believe Räty will be picked around the same time. Dobber Prospects, despite Glazer laying this all out in his article, still ranked Räty #11 in their March rankings. Glazer notes that his premature promotion has destroyed Räty’s ability to create chances in high danger areas, both for himself and others. This is the most damning information for Räty as a “first round prospect,” as Glazer was able to back this up with shot maps from his diffrent seasons. Do give this article a click to see the video and shot maps Glazer used to prove his point.

To encapsulate, 2018-19 Aatu Räty knew he could get good chances on his own, and it meant that he didn’t need to use his teammates as much. Once he got his first promotion to the Liiga, his offensive ability took a hit, because higher levels of competition meant it was harder to be individualistic. On top of struggling to utilize his teammates as much as expected, he’s not as confident in his own abilities, so we aren’t seeing him manipulate defenders in transition, drive the net as a puck carrier, or create high-danger chances.

Moving on, Steve Kourianos still believes Aatu Räty is worth ranking in the top ten - as he placed him at #7 in his March ranking. In his May ranking, Kourianos stated he is still in the top-ten conversation. However, he had a more specific reasoning for his March ranking.

His production in Finland’s top league (3 goals, 2 assists in 20 games) is more of a case of usage (11:30 TOI) and bad puck luck (6.4 shooting percentage) than anything else, and his 13.7 shots-per-60 minutes likely puts him in the top 30 in total shots. Pretty good for a kid who has proven to dominate shifts at every level.

However, I would say that the shot maps that Glazer used in his article for Dobber Prospects disprove Kourianos’ statement here. While Kourianos cares about the mere generation of shots, Glazer showed through shot map data that Räty has been pushed out more and more to the perimeter across the past three seasons. Bad shots are not shots worth caring about unless they are designed to create rebounds - and that would explain his 6.4 shooting percentage.

Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports goes more into the style of Räty’s game. Here, he talks about what kind of offensive player he is:

Raty is much more of a playmaker than a scorer. His hands are outstanding. He can stickhandle in a phone booth and uses that ability to beat defenders on the rush as well as to create opportunities in the offensive zone. He is also able to protect the puck in the cycle game, extending plays and giving his teammates the opportunity to get open...needs to be better at getting to the middle of the ice though. He plays a bit too much of a perimeter game and this hurts his scoring potential.

This aligns with what Glazer showed in his article, so it makes me hesitant to see Räty as anything more than a fringe first round prospect. However, Kerr does note that Räty is capable of playing physical defense and creates turnovers by anticipating puck movement. Under “Projection and Comparison,” Kerr compares him to Nazem Kadri and says this:

The franchise that drafts him will need to have patience and need to work with Raty in taking the puck to the middle of the ice. He should be back in Finland next year and on the Finnish World Junior team, looking for redemption after being left off this year’s squad.

This, again, is why I do not see Aatu Räty as a lottery pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Even in an uncertain year, it seems like bad practice to select someone who has had so many offensive issues exposed through premature promotions. Moving on to Smaht Scouting, Josh Tessler had this to say about his defensive game:

Räty seems to always look for the optimal forecheck and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on his opponents, but do not expect Räty to deliver a booming hit. He will not use his body to complete a body-check nor a hip-check. While he is aggressive, Räty will consistently look to swipe the puck away with a poke-check.

While this part seems like a good practice for a forechecker, Räty seems to have more signs of issues with his transition defense. Tessler continued:

Typically, Räty is not a big back-checker, instead he sits back in a “support” or an “insurance” type role. Räty is there to ensure that if his teammate and his opponent get tangled up and loose sight of the puck then he will be able to jump on the puck to secure it.

Since Räty is often knocked for average-at-best and inconsistent speed, this worries me. The New Jersey Devils, currently, struggle enough with the passivity of their defense. If Räty is going to glide down the ice in defensive transition waiting for someone else to knock the puck loose, I would not be particularly excited to see the Devils select him.

A Little Video

Now, we move on to Räty’s video. Since Räty did not play in any international games this year, there is very little in the way of recent highlights. So first, we have a video from 2019:

In the first clip, Räty shows some good decision making on the power play. In the second, he releases a shot off of a loose puck and nets one just inside the post. In the third clip, he stays in the high slot on defense and shadows an opposition goal scorer before taking a passed puck from the boards and moving it up ice. Räty sends the puck to his right as they enter the offensive zone, and an excellent shot gives him a primary assist. In the fourth clip, Räty blasts a slap shot from the point for a goal.

Instead of giving a relatively nondescript Prospect Film Room video, here is a shift-by-shift performance from a game in February this season. One minute into the video, Räty parks himself in a good position near the goal, and gets on the rebounded puck but cannot shoot through three defenders. For a center, I feel he leaves the defensive zone way too early in the clip at the two-minute mark, looking for a stretch pass rather than aiding defensively. He does fix that at the three-minute mark, seeing the breakout being disrupted and skating back to alleviate the pressure. When Räty gets the puck, he usually seems to know where he is going with it. However, he does not have enough of a consistent nose for the puck. He plays well low in the defensive zone but can be somewhat passive elsewhere. He is decent at giving help defense throughout his shifts. At 7:50, Räty finally chases an opposition puck carrier to the blueline in his defensive zone and forces a turnover, but skates a bit too far in transition looking for a pass, leading to an icing as he attempted to stay onside and collect a pass through traffic.

Räty appears to be on-ice for a goal at the 9:55 mark, but he was covering his man and did not take the delayed penalty in transition. I cannot fault him for the goal, as someone else lost their man, took a delayed call, and allowed the partial breakaway. He plays well on the forecheck at 11:00, nearly taking away a pass back behind the net with anticipatory stick position. At 13:35, Räty is flat-footed in the neutral zone but still takes a pass away with stick position, causing a turnover.

My Opinion on Räty

Having watched his shift-by-shift performance, I feel a bit better about Aatu Räty than I did from reading articles about him. Sure, many of the observations I read about his play were present in the video, but Räty does not seem to like wasting time with the puck, and I think a team who knows the right way to develop him can get a good player. While I saw him compared to Nazem Kadri, the kind of player I think he should try to be like is his countryman Tuomo Ruutu. Räty seemed most comfortable parking himself near the net on offense and when he was applying pressure defensively. When Räty relied on zone-style defensive play, he seemed a bit too passive in waiting for other players to do things. If he were to put on some weight, I think he would be a better fit for the North American ice surface and style of play than European hockey. I actually name-searched both of them, and found an article from The Athletic prior to this season in which Tuomo Ruutu said this about Räty:

“It’s not easy to make a team as an underage so that tells you something about him,” Ruutu said. “He’s got a high battle level and he’s got skill. He’s going to have a bright future.”

I would not be totally displeased with picking Räty with the pick the Devils received from the Islanders. While I would more prefer a defenseman with a late-first rounder (like Daniil Chayka or Corson Ceuelemans if they are still available), I think Räty could be a decent selection. I do not see him as a center, and moving him to wing should prevent him from being too passive a defensive player - not too dissimilar from current Devil Pavel Zacha in that respect. However, Zacha definitely has a load more offensive skill, and Räty would be better off grinding out goals with his touted puck protection skills and newfound ability to park himself in front of the goal. His defensive stick, when applied, made me think of what a much-less developed version of Janne Kuokkanen might look like (or a less physical image of Blake Coleman), which is why I think he needs to play more like Ruutu. Ruutu will likely coach him at World Juniors in under six months if he is still a U20 assistant. So perhaps Räty will show some growth then.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Aatu Räty? Are you interested in picking him late in the first round? What do you make of writers who still rank him in the lottery? Do you think he should be picked in the first round at all? What do you make of his offensive game? What did you think of his defensive showing in his shift-by-shift video? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.