Aatu Räty has been the name on everyone’s lips as the countdown to hockey season slowly ticked down. Drafted in the second round by the New York Islanders in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the young Finnish centerman fell to 52nd after being predicted to go in the top three, if not first overall, leading up the last few seasons.
With two seasons playing against men for Oulun Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga, Räty’s numbers took a hit that scared much of the NHL off, but not the Islanders who used their first pick of the draft on the once first-round talent.
Räty dressed for his first game with the Isles on Sunday and piqued even more interest not only within the Islanders fanbase but around the league. However, his situation gets complicated and the path to playing hockey in North America this season is unlikely.
New York Islanders’ Aatu Räty Expectations in 2021-22
Despite his first-round upside, Aatu Räty was not drafted in the top 32 and so his contract situation is tricky. The IIHF agreement outlines three options for Räty this season, and none lend themselves to developing him within the Islanders organization in 2021-22.
Räty can stay with the Islanders on their NHL roster, which straight away is not probable. The Islanders’ forward depth is overflowing as is and there simply is not any room for a still-developing rookie on a team making a serious run for the cup.
In this scenario, Räty would not be able to be sent down to play for the Bridgeport Islanders until December, all but taking the option away.
If not on the Islanders’ NHL roster, Räty will go back to Kärpät. This would see him finish out the last season of his contract with the club, freeing him to play with the Isles next season.
The Islanders and Kärpät can also come to an agreement allowing Räty to play in the AHL. Though this would be the ideal option, it is extremely unlikely that Kärpät allows for him to spend the entire season playing for another team.
Realistically, we should expect Räty to officially play for the Islanders — whether that is in the NHL or Bridgeport — in 2022-23.
The Islanders and Räty (as well as all other Finnish prospects) face another obstacle in the form of Finland’s compulsory military service. Every Finnish male citizen must serve for six months, and there are no exceptions for professional athletes.
Though athletes were allowed to break up this service in the past, they must now serve the six months consecutively.
Fortunately, playing professional hockey gives Räty the option to only spend three months actually on base, and three playing for either Kärpät or the Islanders.
The ideal scenario would be for Räty to get his service out of the way from June to September of 2022 so that neither he nor the Islanders will have to worry about it as he becomes a more permanent fixture in the lineup in years to come.
On the ice, we can expect for Räty to continue focusing on his speed and acceleration, as he had this past offseason. Though not a slow skater, he was never very skilled, but he is working on changing that.
Coach Barry Trotz has already publicly praised the young prospect, a signal for all Isles fans to keep an eye on Räty even if he plays in a different sweater this season.