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2021 NHL Draft Preview: Aatu Raty

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Could the Oilers dip into the SM-Liiga with this year’s first rounder?

MARKUU HYTTINEN (AOP)

(Check out our profile on Oil Kings G Sebastian Cossa HERE)

The emergence of Finland as one of hockey’s biggest importers of NHL talent goes back quite a long way. The emergence of Jari Kurri on those dynasty Oiler teams really put the nation on the map and since then we have seen the likes of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Sebastian Aho, and many more make noise in the league.

Internationally, their track record is even more impressive. Team Finland has captured gold at the World Juniors three times since 2014 and added gold and silver at the last two World Championships.

Yet, despite this, the Oilers very rarely look to the country when selecting in the first round. The team last drafted out of Finland’s premier league, the SM-Liiga, in 2016 when they took Jesse Puljujarvi with the fourth overall pick.

Before Puljujarv, the last Finnish player taken by the Oilers in the first round was all the way back to 1999, when the club selected Jani Rita with the 13th overall pick. That pick marked the first time the Oilers had ever used their first-rounder on a Finn, 20 years after they entered the league.

As we approach the 2021 NHL Draft the possibility of a prominent Finnish forward being on the board is high. Aatu Raty was once one of this draft’s most highly touted prospects but he is expected to go around #19.

Selecting Raty would be just the third time in Oilers history that they used a first-rounder on a player out of the SM-Liiga. So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at who Raty is.

Who Is Aatu Raty?:

Aatu Raty is a six-foot-one 118lb Finnish centerman that spent the majority of last season playing for Kärpat of the SM-Liiga. Here he was deployed as a bottom-six forward and struggled to produce points. In 35 games last season he was only able to muster six points (3G, 3A). This lack of production was concerning for Raty but, when you combine the league’s historically low goal totals with the fact that Kärpat’s system typically suppresses goalscorers there are some valid excuses for this being the case.

He has all the tools to become a reliable goal-scorer at a high level as he possesses a great shot, but there are improvements to be made. He needs to be more consistent in his decision-making and start looking for higher percentage areas on the ice to shoot. This past season he averaged a whopping 11.8 shots per 60 minutes, most of which hit the goalie square in the chest.

On the defensive end of the puck, there is some promise. He routinely helps out his defensive teammates and does a pretty decent job of picking up open guys in the slot. However, as is the case with many young players, there does seem to be a tendency to exit the defensive zone a tad early in hopes of a break.

To add to this, Raty isn’t a pushover. He is a big body who knows how to use his size to his advantage and he has shown to be tough to handle in front of opposing nets. Overall, he looks to be a player with some potential to become a decent two-way centerman IF he can improve in the areas of decision-making and finishing.

Here are what the experts are saying about Raty:

Steve Kournianos (The Draft Analyst): “Raty’s overall skating package is above-average for a center his size and it can be critiqued as either inconsistent or improving...Raty has an excellent shot and release that must be respected, but refinement is needed. There were games when he clearly established a desire to shoot pucks from anywhere on the ice but with varying degrees of accuracy and sensibility...If Raty ever fails to live up to his scoring expectations, he should always find a role as an energy checker and physical presence. Nobody should ever question Raty’s efforts, as he is a tireless worker from start to finish both on or off the puck, and he is consistent in covering the low slot and supporting his defensemen below the goal line.”

Sam Consentino (Sportsnet): “ Once thought to be the class of this year’s group, Raty failed to make Finland’s WJC team as a returnee, and struggled to find his way in the Liiga. Having said that, if he can regain his form, this would be a big win”

Jokke Nevalainen (Dobberprospects): “A play-driving offensive center who plays a solid 200-foot game. A dual-threat because he can both make plays and finish them. Great skating ability combined with high-end puck skills makes him a threat all over the ice. Needs to work on his consistency and discipline.”

Ben Kerr (Last Word on Sports): “The questions about Raty’s offensive game have made it more likely that he will become a second-line center than carry a franchise. However, this is still valuable. This is even more true when one considers that Raty’s strong defensive game can continue to grow and he could be used against the other team’s best players and on the penalty kill.”

Does He Make Sense at #19?:

At the beginning of 2020, there was a lot of talk about Raty being a top-five pick in this year’s draft. After a disappointing 2021 season, however, that is no longer the case. Some scouts are still very high on the Finn but it seems he has dropped toward the 15-25 range on most lists.

Here are some of those rankings.

Bob McKenzie (TSN): 20

Craig Button (TSN): 29

Sam Consentino (Sportsnet): 14

Tony Ferrari (Dobberprospects): 9

There is a possibility that a team takes a risk on him with a higher pick but, in a year full of uncertainties, teams may opt to go with someone that had better years.

He would make sense at the #19 spot that the Oilers currently hold.

Potential Fit with Oilers?:

Raty would immediately become one of Edmonton’s top prospects at the forward position. The organization lacks a lot of depth at the center position which would pave the way for Raty to become an NHLer sooner than in another organization.

With that being said, I struggle to find a premier place on the roster for him to eventually go. The top two center positions are absolutely locked up by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl while RNH and Dylan Holloway are probably the current long-term solutions on LW. Meanwhile, on the right side, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are looking like those guys on RW.

There are risks associated with this pick. He is coming off an underwhelming season in Finland and there are multiple areas that need to be improved before he makes the jump to North America.

He has the potential to be a really good top-9 player in this league which would be extremely valuable to a team lacking forward depth like the Oilers. Picking him would help the team’s depth in the future but it also won’t pay off for at least three more seasons.

It might be worth the risk, but Edmonton might want to look toward someone a bit more NHL-ready if they opt for a forward with this pick.