The NY Islanders sent prospect Aatu Räty (as well as Robin Salo) back down to the AHL Bridgeport Islanders earlier this week after Lane Lambert and co. returned to Long Island following a Western North American road trip. Räty played seven games for the varsity Islanders and showed Lambert and Islanders management he has an NHL foundation, something that can leave the organization and its fans excited about his NHL future that could be sooner rather than later. But, as the Islanders get healthier, they no longer need the 20-year-old center to play bottom-6 minutes, but instead play big, essential minutes and be a difference-maker for Bridgeport. On Friday night, that's precisely what Räty did single handily snapping Bridgeport's 11-game losing streak.
In his first game back in the AHL, Räty had a rough game. He went pointless against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and ended the game a minus-3. The Islanders had been toiling so the blame wasn't his alone and he went through a bit of an adjustment going back down to the AHL from the NHL. His second game back, however, went much smoother against the same opponent in a home-and-home mini-series.
Head coach Brent Thompson penciled Räty between fellow Isles top prospects Ruslan Iskhakov and William Dufour, an exciting trio to watch, to say the least. Otto Koivula's third-period goal tied the game at three, sending the Islanders and Phantoms to overtime. Halfway through the 3-on-3 extra time, Salo fed Dufour to begin a rush starting in the Islanders' end. Dufour with his head up spotted Räty behind the Phantoms' defense and sent the puck up ice with a crisp tape-to-tape pass springing Räty for a breakaway. Räty kept it simple and unleashed a shot blocker-side against Lehigh Valley goaltender Felix Sandstrom blocker side to snap the Jr. Islanders' 11-game losing streak.
Räty's overtime winner is definitely the kind of thing you want to see him doing playing at the AHL level. He's received his first taste of NHL action and now that he knows what it's like, the goal is for him to excel at the AHL level, build his confidence, and mold a responsible two-way forward with a scoring punch at the NHL level. He's already started to show that he can do that, it's now just about sharpening those skills on his path to becoming a full-time NHLer. His second AHL stint is off to a good start, one we'll monitor a hope to see continue.