We didn't know if we would see Aatu Räty in the NHL when the season began. The conventional thinking was that, regardless of how well he was playing in Bridgeport, the Islanders would need to suffer a series of injuries for GM Lou Lamoriello and the front office to pull their prized prospect from the AHL in his first season in North America, but that's exactly what happened.
As the Isles mounted, Räty was given an opportunity and has made the most of it, scoring in the third period of his NHL debut versus the Florida Panthers. The goal showcased a combination of skill and determination that excites a fanbase about what's to come. He scored his second goal on Tuesday night in Vancouver, finishing a pass from Ross Johnston that tied the game at 1-1 and sent the Isles on their way to a 6-2 win.
"It’s really important to build relationships with other players. Get comfortable within the team. The team here has made it really easy for me to come here and be as comfortable as I can be. Make your face familiar with everybody, whether it be the players or the staff or the coaches."- Aatu Räty
Since playing 11:25 in his NHL debut, Räty hasn't seen more than 8:53 of ice time, but hasn't been frustrated by his lack of opportunity.
“You don’t think about it,” said Räty before Thursday's 4-2 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers. “I feel like I’m so into the game, whether I’m on the ice or on the bench watching every shift. Obviously being in the game, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing 20 minutes [or much less]. We were matching up heavy, so I think that’s just the thing.”
As a center, it is particularly tricky for Räty to break the healthy Islanders lineup at this stage of his development. While we have seen a willingness for Lane Lambert to move Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and even Casey Cizikas to wing, once Kyle Palmieri can return, the most plausible move is sending Räty back to Bridgeport where he can get consistent minutes and valuable learning experience having had a taste of the speed of the NHL game a taste of professional hockey life.
The other thing at play is Räty's three year entry-level contract that he signed as an 18-year-old in August 2021. If he plays 10 regular-season games, it would trigger the first year of the contract, something the organization ideally would want to avoid unless absolutely necessary.
We may not see much more of the 20-year-old, but what we've seen hasn't dimmed the outlook for next season for beyond. If anything, it's grown expectations for the impact he could make.