Whenever a once highly sought-after prospect falls from grace before the draft even commences, you have to wonder if the team that selects them could end up with a true gem.
That's exactly what the New York Islanders might have on their hands.
Aatu Raty was, by many accounts, considered the top prospect for the 2021 draft. His performance at the 2020 World Junior Championship - a season and a half before his name was called at the virtual 2021 draft process - made it seem like he truly was going to be the real deal.
And then, everything went south. His play didn't improve in the Finnish men's league, finishing with just three goals and six points in 35 games. Raty didn't even make it as a returning player on the WJC team last December. Raty was eventually selected 52nd overall by the Islanders, and some scouts thought even that was too early for what Raty had shown over the past year.
But he didn't let the detractors get to him. On the same day he became Islanders property, Raty had a four-goal game against Sweden at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan and finished with the tournament lead with 14 points in six games. He had multiple points in every game he hit the scoresheet and was the top player from start to finish. The Islanders clearly believed in what he could do, signing him to his NHL entry-level contract this past weekend.
When a prospect taken outside of the first round is drafted that early, it clearly shows a sense of belief from the team's brain trust. As written about in this feature by The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, Raty's agent, Mika Backman, mentioned that Raty seemed to lose the joy of the sport, which contributed to his downfall. His second half of the season was definitely better, playing a more regular role with Karpat in the top Finnish league, but the production simply wasn't there.
Now that he has his first NHL contract out of the way and doesn't have to worry about the pressures of trying to live up to his draft hype, maybe this is could be the fresh start Raty needs. Maybe falling as far as he did actually did wonders for taking the pressure off of him.
So far, Raty's (limited) action after the draft proved he's ready to prove people wrong. The talent is clearly there. When he's playing at his best, Raty can be a tough one to stop. He has proven that against his own age group and while he has spent the past two years playing against men, it will only help further his development once he makes his way to North America. At 6-foot-2, he's got good size and the strength of his shot is already quite impressive.
The tools are there. It's just putting it together in a consistent, cohesive package. And at a young age, with all the pressure, that's easier said than done. But it's crazy to think how much a summer off from domestic play can really help a player, and given how Raty seemed to just look better near the end of the year before a strong World Junior Summer Showcase, maybe the extra break will help him recharge and build upon his late-season momentum.
Raty will return to Karpat this season, and maybe make a move to North America in the following year. Again, the fact that the Islanders offered him a contract when there's still a host of first-round prospects not inked yet – says something. The Islanders didn't have a first-round pick, so, truly, Raty could have been the guy they wanted all along.
While there has been cause for concern about his overall play and feelings towards the game, there's just as much hope – if not more – that he'll really shine through and be the top prospect so many believed he could be.
Welcome to the Aatu Raty Revenge Tour.