If you go back even one year, there wasn’t a single person who would have expected Aatu Räty to realistically be available at 12th overall, where the Flames will select in the 2021 draft. Räty was touted as the class of the draft, likely selected either first or second overall, and one of the no-doubt best talents available. Now, he’ll most likely be available when the Flames pick, and is definitely worthy of consideration.
Continuing our 2021 draft series, Räty is ranked #13 on The Win Column’s Consolidated NHL Draft Rankings. The big question surrounding Räty is why he was ranked so high a year or two ago, and has now dropped down to the teens and even 20s on some draft boards. Let’s dive in.
Who is Aatu Räty?
Räty is a Finnish left-shot centerman who most recently played in for Kärpät in the Liiga, Finland’s top men’s league. He stands at an NHL-ready 6’1″ and weighs in at 181 lbs.
He’s played in Kärpät’s system since 2016, advancing through the U16, U18, and U20 teams en route to Kärpät’s Liiga club. Räty has always played in leagues with players older than him, a trend that continued in 2021. He was born on November 14, 2002, so he’s one of the older draft eligibles, but not even the oldest we’ll cover in our series. He made Finland’s WJC team in 2019 as the youngest player in the entire tournament, and finished with a respectable two goals and there points, helping Finland finish in fourth place.
There are many potential reasons for Räty falling down the draft rankings the past 12 months. As we’ll go over in the next section, he didn’t take the step forward offensively that scouts look for in his draft season compared to his D-1 season. This has lead to some believing that Räty has peaked early and doesn’t have as much room to improve as other draftees. The other red flag is that after making Finland’s WJC team in 2019, he was left off the roster in 2020.
When you have the spotlight on you, the added pressure to perform sometimes makes it more difficult to play consistently at your best, especially when you’re a teenager. On top of that, Kärpät is always one of the Liiga’s best teams, and they had a rough 2020-21 season as well. Räty being a younger player on that team, it was hard for him to thrive in the Kärpät ship that was taking on water all year long. Listen to this clip from Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting on Räty’s season and why he still believes in Räty at the NHL level.
Something to keep in mind.
Aatu Räty’s on-ice production
The two highest leagues that Räty has played in so far is the U20 and Liiga teams for Kärpät. Year over year, he’s improved in the U20 league and has earned more games in the Liiga as a result.
|2018-19||D-2||Kärpät U20||U20 SM-liiga||41||17||14||31|
Räty is still 18 years old, and is clearly dominant in the U20 league. Normally this would be a good sign all on its own, but his drop in production from four points in 12 games two seasons ago to just six points in 35 games this past season wasn’t what you generally want to see from a player projected to go first overall.
Still, he took strides at the U20 level which does indicate progression. In fact, Räty was outscored by two 17-yea- olds, and only finished ninth among 18-year-olds in the Liiga. Granted, several were drafted last year, but Räty was expected to do more.
Aatu Räty’s strengths
There’s a long list of strengths to talk about, which is why I still think Räty should be selected before the Flames pick at 12.
The most impressive tool Räty has is his puck handling. He’s easily one of, if not the most skilled playmaker in the draft, and he makes his opponents look silly.
People often metaphorize Räty’s skill by saying he could stickhandle in a phone booth. From what I’ve seen, that seems pretty accurate. That elite skill set is what gives him an edge over other draftees, even those that have surpassed him on the draft boards in recent months. That skill set hasn’t gone away, and one untimely rough season doesn’t take away from his abilities.
Räty is definitely more of a playmaker than a scorer. On offense, he can play within any style whether that’s run-and-gun or a cycle game. Räty is a strong body that protects the puck well along the boards and withstand abuse from opposing defenders. He is not the fastest player in the draft as he lacks top end speed, but Räty’s edgework is incredible and he’s a very agile skater.
With high hockey IQ and elite vision, he has all the makings of a solid playmaker that could do quite well with a triggerman on his wing. Despite being a pass-first player, Räty can still shoot the puck extremely well and is not lacking in the scoring department at all.
Offensively, Räty is a very good, complete player. What makes him even more impressive is his two-way game, which has stood out at every level.
In the defensive zone, Räty is a physical player and isn’t afraid to use his body to knock his opponents off the puck to create turnovers. His vision and hockey IQ keeps him in the right position, ready to break up passing plays and transition the puck up the ice the other way in a hurry. He projects to have value on both sides of special teams and eventually be used against other teams’ best players.
This blend of two-way talent with immense offensive upside is rare and always coveted by NHL teams.
Aatu Räty’s areas of improvement
One key area for Räty to improve upon is driving play towards the middle of the ice even when the going gets tough. Some scouts have noted that he tends to carry the puck wide more often than not, which isn’t something that generally leads to quality scoring chances at the NHL level. This is something that can be taught, but his D+1 season will be extremely telling. The risk is high with this one.
Räty can also work on his discipline. Several scouts have noted that Räty can take unnecessary penalties which is something that drives coaches crazy.
Of course, the number one thing that Räty needs to improve on is his consistency, and bouncing back from his underwhelming 2020-21 campaign. He has the skill set to be the steal of the draft, but nobody will know until next season is well underway. A team will need to fully believes in Räty’s ability to put this season behind him to select him in the first round this year.
Fit with the Flames
The Flames definitely have an organizational need at right wing, but they don’t have the elite, top-end talent at center either. Adding Räty, who could end up being a very, very good top-six NHL center would be extremely helpful long term. He’s a left shot, but down the middle of the ice who really cares.
There is a fit for Calgary. They hit a home run last year with the Connor Zary pick and look to have found a gem in Ryan Francis as well, their fifth round selection in the same draft. With Räty heading back to Finland next season, you can always let him work on things there before bringing him overseas. With the pressure of potentially being the first ever Finn to go first overall in the draft firmly behind him, Räty can focus on his game and join the Flames when he’s ready.
You can never be too deep at center, and if Räty falls to 12, it seems like a win to get a player with elite skill even if he has fallen down the draft board a bit.
Räty had a very underwhelming 2020-21 season, and fell down the draft boards as a result. At one time he was projected to go first overall, but could now be available at 12 when the Flames pick , or even later than that.
He still has the skill worth of a top draft choice, but his consistency and top-end speed could use some work. The team that picks Räty will need to be patient with him and if everything goes according to plan, Räty could end up being a borderline elite top-six center in the NHL, play on both sides of special teams, and be one of the most reliable players on the roster.
Because I still think Räty will go in the top-10, I view him as a higher risk player than others that will go in this range. However, I also see him as a high reward player if everything pans out well. Imagine getting a player worthy of going first overall at 12. Or 15. Or 20. it could happen.
Projection: Top-six playmaker
Featured image created with Venngage.