Deep Dive: A look into Aatu Raty’s game
If you asked most draft enthusiasts in the 2019-20 season who was the frontrunner to go first overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, the first name mentioned would have been Aatu Raty.
Now in the midst of the 2020-21 season, you won’t find a ranking that has the Finnish forward in the top spot for the upcoming draft. The 2021 NHL Draft still doesn’t have a leading contender, with as many as 10 names getting some first-overall buzz.
So what happened? Has he not progressed as expected? Has he regressed? Or have others simply taken bigger steps forward than him? In this deep dive, we’ll take a look at Räty’s game and try to figure out why the young prospect has been an early faller in 2021 NHL Draft rankings.
Getting to know Aatu Räty
Raty is on the older side of the spectrum in this draft class, born November 14, 2020, in Oulunsalo, Finland. Coming up through the Karpat system, the center made early impacts with the program. He started playing with the U16s at just 14, collecting a combined 57 points in 40 games between the U16 SM-sarja and U16 SM-sarja Q.
In 2017-18, the Finn really exploded. At 15 years old, he dominated the U16 level. In 39 games between the two leagues again, Raty recorded a whopping 96 points. He also tasted his first U18 action, playing six games, scoring once and adding eight assists for nine points. In both this campaign and his first, he won the Sami Kapanen Award as the league’s Best Forward. In 2017-18, he led the league in points and was also named the Best Player. While this season showed his ability to take over games, he was just getting started.
The 2018-19 season was something of a coming-out party for Raty. Now 16, he proved too good for the U18 level, recording 18 points in just six games. Instead, he jumped to the U20 level in the Jr. A SM-liiga, playing 41 games, scoring 17 goals with 14 assists for 31 points. He then added 12 points in 10 playoff games, helping the team to a championship.
On top of what he did in Finland this season, he broke out internationally, giving him global recognition. It started at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he helped Team Finland to a silver medal with three goals in six games. In the spring, he suited up again for Finland, this time at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship. In five games, he collected one assist.
Entering the 2019-20 season, it was Raty at the top of early 2021 NHL Draft rankings. And he kept building on that, playing in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup to get his year started, noticeably looking better than his World U18’s performance with two goals, two assists, and four points in three games. Heading into the regular season rolling, he played 30 games in the Jr. A SM-liiga and put up 21 points. More notably, he played 12 games in the top-Finnish league, the Liiga, collecting four points.
SEE ALSO: FUTURE FOCUS: AATU RATY
He then built on his international resume again, playing in the 2020 World Junior Championship – a U20 tournament – at just 17 and as the youngest player in the tournament. In seven games, he had two goals and an assist.
In the 2020-21 season, many expected Raty to stick to the Liiga all year and take a big step forward. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, he split his time between the Liiga and the U20 SM-sarja. This has in part fuelled the questions about his game, as has his play in those games at both levels. Granted, as the season has gone on, he’s improved his play. Plus, with the U20 SM-sarja pause earlier this year, he’s jumped up to the Liiga level and not looked back despite Karpat U20 hitting the ice again.
Tools vs. Toolbox
Before we dive into Raty’s game, it’s important to give a bit of a description of what we’ll be talking about. Kicking off FCHockey’s Deep Dives this season, Justin Froese looked into top WHL forward Dylan Guenther and touched on ‘tools’ vs. ‘toolbox.’ This is a pretty common concept in hockey, somewhat of a cliché at this point. Basically, the tools are the individual skills: i.e. skating, shooting, puckhandling, passing. The toolbox is the mental aspect of a player’s game: i.e. hockey sense, processing, awareness, and vision.
As is implied in the metaphor, the toolbox is what brings all the tools together. You can be excellent with a hammer, but if you don’t know how to hold the nail while you’re hammering, when to use a screwdriver instead, or if you don’t know how to use any of the other tools available, well, you’ll be a pretty lousy handyperson.
In hockey, you can be an excellent skater in isolation, but if you don’t know when to use your skating ability in various game settings, if you don’t have the ability to make a play while skating, or if skating is simply all you can do, your ceiling (the projected height of your career) gets lower and lower.
With this explained, now we can get into Raty’s tools and toolbox.
First, we’ll start with Raty’s tools: the easy to see, isolated skills. Then, we’ll get into skill stacking and his toolbox, before closing off with a look at the underlying numbers behind Raty’s play. I’ve watched numerous games of his, mainly from this season, with some 2019-20 glimpses too, plus various clips from other games. There have been games where I see the potential top prospect in this class, and I’ve seen others where I’m not so sure he’d be considered in the first round. Let me show you what I mean.
Clip 1: Skating without the puck
In this video, there’s quite a bit that we can see in the Finn’s (52 black) skating. As he is watching his teammate with the puck, he’s entering the center of the ice to provide an option. As the puck ends up heading down the ice, Raty uses a quick crossover to change direction bringing his left foot directly underneath him and almost hopping over it, planting his right foot and exploding forward.
In his strides, we can see Raty’s strong lower body propelling him forward. This largely comes from his ankle flex and knee bend (the front leg, which generates power in the stride, has the knee over toes) as well as his extensions (the push from bringing his leg from the front to the back). All of this creates a positive shin angle on the front leg and a full rear leg extension. Bringing his rear leg back to the front, he maintains his straight-line skating, making the whole process extremely fluid.
What we also see here, is that coming out of that crossover into his forward strides, he immediately drops his left hand off of his stick to allow his shoulders to roll freely. His arms and his strides create that desired “V” shape, starting from his center and going back diagonally rather than straight forwards and backwards. This side-to-side movement maximizes Raty’s force to move straight.
By allowing his shoulders to roll, the center is creating torque to help him move forward as well. He also holds his upper body in a position to maintain his balance and center of gravity while being able to keep his head at an angle to view the ice. This all factors into his ability to generate power in his skating, one of Raty’s greatest strengths.
Clip 2: Skating with the puck into the zone
Now we add a puck (29 white), and we start to see some of the issues that Raty has been facing this year. This starts with receiving the pass. Watch Raty’s feet – they stop moving and he’s nearly stopped moving forward. Rather than a kick up to his stick, he’s lost all of his momentum and speed. With the puck, we don’t see that powerful acceleration as we did in Clip 1. Instead, he uses one crossover each way to change his direction and throw the defender off. But without speed, the defender can easily stick with him.
One of my biggest worries with Raty can be seen once he hits the blue line. In Clip 1 and the first half of Clip 2, he maintains a dynamic stance. However, as soon as he hit’s the opponent’s blue line and starts looking for a play – his feet once again stop moving and he resorts to the ‘A’ stance that Jack Han refers to in Hockey Tactics 2020.
This takes away Raty’s momentum and takes away any option he had of trying to get past the defender. Based on the three defenders closing in, his only option is to drop it back. It does end up creating a chance but with the speed that we saw in Clip 1, had Raty not stopped his feet at the reception and entering the zone, he likely could have blown by the defender here. This is very common of the defender, who has avoided driving the net with the puck this season, in favour of obvious passes as he enters the zone. But we’ll get to that.
Clip 3: The shot
Another strong aspect of Raty’s game, his wrist shot. It’s not the best in this class, but it’s strong. On this power-play attempt, he (52 white) receives a pass, slides just inside the high-danger area (known as the house), and lets one rip. Of course, we’ll break it down.
One of the best parts of this shot is the timing of it. If you watch him closely, you’ll see there’s a pause from pulling the puck back to letting it go. He’s waiting for his teammate down in front of the net to move in front of the netminder, taking away his eyes. Raty times his release perfectly with the moving screen.
Into his body shape, Raty shows his powerful shot off well here. Pulling the puck back and getting ready to rip it, he releases his inside knee, allowing his weight to fall into his stick and gaining velocity through that downward force as his arms pull and push (top arm pulls into his body and the bottom arm pushes towards the net) the stick forward. He’s holding his head and chest over his toes, and he’s well balanced as he releases his shot.
Watching him through this season, he also has the ability to shoot off both of his feet, a very transferable trait to the NHL. His body shape in the above video, which he utilizes often, is also a trait that looks good for his chances of getting to the next level. This has the potential to be a very dangerous shot (tool) that simply hasn’t been properly utilized this season (toolbox). We still have lots to cover.
Clip 4: Handling the puck/zone entry
In this clip, we can see more of Raty’s transition ability, showing some strong skating with linear crossovers to change his direction as he enters the zone. He once again falls into the A-stance as he hits the blue line, erasing all of his speed and momentum, taking away any chance of him driving the net and forcing him to look for a pass. What we can see in his puckhandling, is how he skates with pressure and without.
Without pressure, Raty has his head up, easily maneuvering the puck with both hands or with one. It’s effortless. However, once he hits the blue line, loses his speed, and starts to face pressure, he pulls it back into his hip pocket in order to maintain complete control and pull it ever so slightly away from the defenders. We also see him drop his head to look down at the puck, erasing all of his vision to the net front. He looks up towards the boards, making the pass to his winger there, missing the opportunity to pass across the slot to the other winger driving the net.
The transition is good, the pulling of the puck into his hip is good, but the vision and stance are not great here. As well, and this is a common aspect with Raty, the play he makes is the path of least resistance. Rather than trying to drive the net or pass across the slot, he looks to the perimeter to the open person. This has resulted in Räty having impressive pass completion percentages but doesn’t create chances for his team.
Clip 5: Puckhandling into traffic
Again here, we see Raty utilize crossovers to enter the zone, changing his direction to try and make him harder to defend. He even has a change of speed to separate from the attacker at center ice. Despite having a clear path into the zone between the defender in the middle of the ice and the winger, Raty crosses into the middle, into the defender and the other forward right behind him. In what seems to be a common theme for the Finn this season, he can’t maintain control and loses the puck, ending the attack.
This shows some concern with Raty’s ability to maneuver small spaces (small-area game). What you would like to see from a top prospect, is the ability to bring the puck into traffic and maintain possession coming out (or going into traffic without the puck and coming out with it). Raty’s issue here is that since he loses his speed with the A stance, and loses the option to blow past the defender to the left of him (forcing the defender to cross his feet and lose his positioning), instead trying to cut in front of the defender where it becomes easy to knock the puck away.
Clip 6 & 7: Passing
Raty’s passing is typically the obvious choice, the simple, safe pass. However, he does have the ability to dish out some impressive passes when needed. As we’ve already seen an obvious pass in Clip 2 and 4, we’re going to take a look at what is possible with the top-ranked Finn.
In this clip, Raty does have an obvious look straight up the boards to the defender (typically what he would do). Instead, he sees the opposite defender through two attackers, catching the two attackers on him completely out of the play. He has the vision and the ability to make these types of passes, he just doesn’t utilize it enough. In this next clip, there are actually three passes he makes, getting the puck out of danger twice and then trying to set up the middle:
The first pass happens at the three-second mark, as Raty hits the puck out of the air up the boards to his winger, away from his pressure. This leads the breakout. He gets the puck back two seconds later, using one hand to hold the puck away from his pressure, giving it a push to his teammate. These first two are very simple-looking passes, but lead the breakout, and make the transition possible.
At the eight-second mark, Raty gets the puck once again, leading the entry. This pass has good intentions, throwing it to the open space where a winger should be. However, with the pressure in front of him, Raty keeps his head down, not looking at his options. He does well to keep the puck away from the defender’s stick, then trying to throw the puck behind his back to the winger – that isn’t there. The winger coasted down the ice, falling behind the play. While he likely should have been there, Raty also needs to have the vision and awareness to notice that he’s on his own and his winger isn’t there yet. The intent was good, but a quick scan to his right at any point coming up the ice would have allowed him to see that his teammate wasn’t there. Luckily, the open space allowed for that teammate to go and collect the puck and continue the pressure.
Clip 8: Pass reception
An underrated quality is pass reception. Can you collect a pass in stride, in your feet, or standing still? For Raty, we saw the loss of speed when he collected the pass in Clip 2. However, it looked much better (twice) in Clip 7. Here, we once again see some difficulty corralling a simple pass. This is a fairly common theme for Raty, as simple passes can sometimes prove difficult to handle. Here, his timing is off when he tries to absorb the slap pass, letting the puck hit his stick flat and bouncing off. This occurred after a long possession in the offensive zone and is simply poked away because of Raty’s inability to control it. In this, Raty needs to show more consistency in his reception.
Clip 9: Physicality
Finally, the last tool we’ll touch on is physicality. In the videos above, you can see that with the puck, Raty tends to shy away from confrontation. He sticks to the perimeter, choosing the easy path around players/obstacles rather than going through. There’s a lack of fearlessness when he has the puck on his stick. Without the puck though, Raty does bring that fearlessness to his game, throwing some big hits, using board pins, and rubbing players off the puck. Without the puck, physicality is a strength. With it, physicality could be untapped potential.
In this clip, we see a hit is against Joonas Oden, who is nearly three years older than Raty, granted similar size at six-foot-zero, 183-pound. He throws a solid shoulder into Oden, completely knocking him off his feet. If Raty can learn how to use his six-foot-one, 181-pound size to his advantage with the puck, we could be looking at a very different player that could hit another level than expected right now.
Looking in Raty’s toolbox
Looking at the tools, there are some hits, some misses, and some lack of consistency. Looking into Räty’s toolbox, unfortunately, there are quite a few more misses and some major consistency issues.
Clip 10 & 11: Overall processing
My colleague Derek Neumeier once tweeted about Raty, “His toolbox is full, but he’s missing the instructions.” For an example of what he means by that, take a look at these two clips:
In the first clip, Raty has the puck and is pressured back into his own zone. Instead of trying to pass the puck off or move away from the defender, he skates back and back towards his own net, ultimately giving it up and allowing a golden scoring opportunity. He was benched for the rest of this game, including overtime.
In the second clip, Raty isn’t the one with the puck but is supposed to be the supporting forward, basing his lane off the puck carrier. when the carrier turns towards the middle, Raty doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t react, knocks his own teammate off the puck, this time leading to a breakaway and a goal against.
What we see in these videos, is a lack of problem-solving from Raty. He’s forced to make a quick decision in both of these videos, and it’s not that he makes the wrong one, it’s that he doesn’t make a decision at all. His processing here is shut down, and he’s not able to overcome the obstacle. This is a really big flag in Raty’s game, that he doesn’t have that split-second, decision-making ability to solve problems. It’s largely this that could see him fall in a big way on draft day and not live up to the potential he had coming into the season.
Clip 12: Not scanning the ice
I touched on this in the “tools” section, but another flag with Raty is the lack of scanning the ice. We know that he has the tools to be a very good player, but without those instructions, the tools won’t be used properly. In this clip, he wins the race to the puck, as his support drops down lower into the zone, looking for a dump down the boards. Since Raty doesn’t utilize a shoulder check here, he believes that his teammates are still behind him. Without looking, he spins away from the defender and is surprised to see his teammates down so low, whiffing on the pass, and resulting in a turnover. This is extremely common in Raty’s game, the lack of shoulder checks, surveying, and general awareness of where his teammates and the other defenders are.
Again though, you can view this as an opportunity. By adding shoulder checks into his arsenal, Raty would vastly improve his game.
Clip 13: Lack of driving the net/finding the lanes
We’ve touched on this quite a bit, but it’s something that really stands out to me in Raty’s game, as his shot chart will show us soon. He does well in transition, from exits to entries. But once he has that entry, Raty seems to not know what to do with the puck this season. This video shows one of two regular looks for him. Here, he gains the zone and dumps the puck on net from a low-danger, low-percentage area. The other regular look is hitting the blue line, and gliding horizontally and passing it off. He seems unwilling and not confident in driving the net or perhaps, as we saw in his processing, he can’t find the lanes to the net which is a much larger issue.
Clip 14 & 15: Defensive awareness
For this one, I’ve added two clips as it shows the good and the bad. Again, consistency is a big issue with Raty.
This clip shows something fairly common in Raty’s game. He’s the player in front of the net, who starts heading out of the zone early. Again, he doesn’t survey the ice and see that there’s an uncovered attacker behind him. He starts to leave the zone, but the breakout pass to him goes to where he was not where he’s going, right to the attacker that he left wide open for an easy one-time goal. There were a few clips of this exact scenario that I saved for this, Raty not noticing the attacker behind him, leaving the net front wide open for them to slide in for an excellent chance against.
At the same time, Raty can prove to be a very smart defensive forward on other occasions. Here, he sees the defender coming around the net with the puck and moves quickly to either cut off his path to the net or a pass. In this clip, it pays off with an interception that Raty quickly turns into a controlled exit. He reacts very quickly here, moving the puck away from the net and out of the zone. If this was the player we always saw in his own end, he might not have fallen out of the top-10.
Clip 16: Pace of play/compete
You may have seen many people in the Twittersphere over the past month or two talking about how Raty is starting to look like his old self. Having watched a great deal of his play, there’s definitely been an improvement in his play as the season has gone on. However, it is still very inconsistent and I would like to see more of this ‘old self’ on a regular basis. What that old self looks like, is this (52 black, comes in at the eight-second mark):
This is the Raty that we love to see. He’s all over the ice, he’s driving the net, he’s pushing the pace of the play, he’s winning races, he’s getting offensive positioning, he’s getting shots in close, he’s using his edges to separate from defenders, he opens up his hips in turns, and he shows off his quick release a couple of times. Also, if you pause at the 16-second mark of this clip, you’ll see a shoulder check! If he always played like this, and especially if he always played like this, we’d very much be keeping him in the first-overall conversation. If this is what Raty is capable of and what becomes the norm, he could end up being a steal if selected outside the top 10.
The underlying numbers behind Raty’s game
We’ve reviewed the tape, let’s now take a look at the statistics. To start off, what has led to the drop off in the love for Raty? What happened this season? Well, I’ve talked a lot about Raty not being willing to drive the net and look for those high-danger chances. Take a look at his shot chart from 2019-20 compared to 2020-21:
In 2019-20, Raty took 67 of his 129 shots from inside the house (the two areas directly in front of the net). That’s 51.9 percent. Ideally, this would be higher, but still slightly more than half of his attempts are in a high-percentage zone. But in 2020-21, that has dropped to 48 of 115, down to 41.7 percent of his total shots. Again in 2019-20, 32 of his 129 shots (24.8 percent) came from above the top of the circles. In 2020-21, that has gone up to 43 of his 115 shots (37.4 percent).
What I take away from this, is that Raty has lost confidence in his game. He’s not driving the lanes, he’s not carrying the puck into the high-danger areas, and he’s working the perimeter a great deal more this season than he was last. For Raty to improve this, he’s going to need to build his confidence back up. We know he can do it, as he has in the past.
This drop in high-danger chances has led to lower point totals for Raty. Thus, he’s dropped in Byron Bader’s player comparison tool from his draft-1 (D-1) season to his draft year where his peers have all risen past and supplanted him, as can be seen here with fellow top Finn Samu Tuomaala. Granted, along with the D-1 numbers, Raty’s NHLer probabilities are still higher than Tuomaala’s but that’s not the case versus other peers.
Looking at other top forward Finns, Oliver Kapanen has put up an 18 NHLe this season with a 35 percent NHLer probability, Samu Salminen has a 25 NHLe with a 53 percent NHLer probability, and Ville Koivunen has a 21 NHLe with a 49 percent NHLer probability. Keep in mind that this is largely based on point totals in their leagues, but this does make the once-considered No. 1 prospect look fairly pedestrian.
The last chart I would like to share may make you hold some hope for the young Finn. Lassi Alanen of EliteProspects has been tracking players in the U20 SM-sarja eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, and Raty has been looking very good. Through Alanen’s seven games tracked of Raty, this is how he looks:
This is very much a player who seems to be doing a lot of things right. It hasn’t been translating on the score sheet a great deal this season, but it proves that he is strong in transition and has the potential to start putting up points. If you’re confident that you can develop Raty and work on his processing, then there is very much a player worth betting on here. Seeing this, the young prospect could be very close to putting it all together. Raty compares very well to his peers in the U20 SM-sarja, I highly recommend checking out Alanen’s work to prove that for you, so him still being the top Finnish prospect is very understandable.
Räty’s next steps
There’s a lot to digest with Raty. He has a lot of the tools, but his toolbox has some leaks. His ability to stack skills isn’t where it needs to be, his processing is in question, and there’s an obvious step back for Raty this season compared to what we’ve seen in previous years. Perhaps it’s the stress of his draft year or maybe it’s simply that he’s lost some confidence in his game. At the same time, there’s a lot to like with Raty as well. He’s a strong skater, with a very nice shot that brings some physicality to his game. As the season has gone on, his pace of play has improved and he seems more hungry than he did in the first few months of the campaign. He’s also shown some impressive ability in his own end.
A major aspect for Raty right now is a lack of consistency. There is a great deal that he has the ability to succeed in, but hasn’t been this year. This has and will affect his draft stock. However, if he can continue to find his game and play as he did in Clip 16, there could still be a pretty special player here. As we saw in the chart from Alanen, the underlying numbers are there. Now he just needs to put it all together. With the right development plan, there could still be high hopes for Raty.