Blackhawks’ No. 11 pick in 2021 NHL Draft: Making the case for Aatu Raty

Once in contention for the first overall spot, Raty could find himself falling to the Blackhawks

The Second City Hockey staff will be profiling players who could be available at the No. 11 spot in the 2021 NHL Draft, where the Blackhawks will make their first-round selection. The draft starts Friday, June 23.

It’s not often that a player is in contention for the top overall selection in a given year’s draft. Entering into this oddity of a season — as it was for many prospects, either playing shortened seasons with their main team and a few other games with another, or not playing at all with the OHL team that drafted them and instead either going overseas or playing professionally before they might be ready — that’s exactly what Aatu Raty was doing.

And then he fell. Pretty far.

The Basics

Position: Center
Age: 18 (Nov. 14, 2002)
Hometown: Oulunsalo, Finland
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 181 pounds
Shoots: Left
Team: Karpat (Liiga)

Draft rankings

NHL Central Scouting (NHL): No. 3 European skater
Elite Prospects: No. 20
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): No. 16
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): No. 19
Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects): No. 19
Craig Button (TSN): No. 23

Raty struggled this season in the Finnish Liiga, collecting just six points (3 G, 3 A) in 35 games. Playing against grown men is important to see from prospects, but it follows a season when Raty earned his high projection heading into the 2020 offseason after scoring four points (2 G, 2 A) in just 12 games in the Liiga — not the kind of development one wants to see from a potential No. 1 overall pick.

Raty, when described, can often seem a little like another player the Blackhawks are intimately familiar with. I’ll let you guess after reading this passage, from Scott Wheeler of the Athletic:

When he’s engaged and active, he can be an effective forechecker who wins back possession and then makes plays off of the wall to the interior. When he’s playing with confidence with the puck, he’s also got the tools needed to create high-danger attempts for himself. I do worry about his decision-making, though, and there will continue to be ceiling and floor questions if his trajectory doesn’t begin to follow a steeper incline sooner rather than later.

Time to guess ...

That sounds a whole lot like how I would describe Alex Nylander. There are a whole lot of qualifiers and “when” statements. When Nylander is on his game, he’s very good. When he’s engaged, Nylander can do special things on the ice. The problem is that those when moments don’t happen often, never have, and likely never will.

Raty does things well, for sure. He’s good on the puck, and can both make plays and take quality shots. He can supply energy when he’s on the ice and can play physically, has great hand-eye coordination, great hands in general and, to quote an old saying, can operate in a phone booth. Per Corey Pronman, also of The Athletic, Raty projects as an NHL second-line center. And if Kirby Dach can be a number one center, then Raty being a good number two would be great.

But that backward step Raty took this season is a major concern. Raty was cut by Finland’s U20 team for the World Juniors and his offense evaporated. While he was still able to dominate against other younger players in the U20 SM-sarja, scoring seven points in eight games, his chance to prove himself in his draft year against grown men didn’t work out.

Part of the problem is that Raty takes a while to shoot. It’s not a quick release, but rather a slow process. Raty does have power and accuracy when he’s got the time to get it off but that time is a rare commodity in the NHL.

Raty is also not a great skater who can add more speed into his legs but is focused on developing that part of his game. The Blackhawks have a history of working with players who are not great skaters at the time of their drafting and still being able to get NHL value out of them.

Raty is able to get to the hard areas, absorb contact, and generate high-danger chances. There are definitely things to like about the young Finnish center’s game, and that includes his instincts to generate quality chances. He’s one of the more complicated prospects in this year’s draft, but Stan Bowman sure does like himself a project.

Organizational Fit

Like Kent Johnson, Raty is able to play both center and wing, but he’ll likely be a center in the NHL. He has some size and physicality, enough to play the position in the NHL and that’s a needed thing, especially if he ends up where he should in the middle six. The Blackhawks could use a goal-scoring center, as they’ve mostly focused on middle men who can create plays. The Blackhawks also like themselves a forward who can go to the high-danger areas and Raty can be a second power-play unit net-front presence. Raty is a power center, which could fit alongside Dach for the future.