The 2021 National Hockey League Draft will be held virtually from July 23-24. The Edmonton Oilers hold five picks in the Draft, beginning with the 20th-overall selection. Stay tuned to EdmontonOilers.com from now until the event for consistent coverage.
EDMONTON, AB - Just a few seasons ago, it wasn't uncommon to hear Finnish forward Aatu Raty's name in conversations involving the best prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft.
Raty was considered a surefire top-five pick after the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder flourished during the 2018-19 campaign. That year, he was as dominant as ever overseas, accumulating 43 points in 51 total games for Kärpät's under-20 team.
The centre's well-decorated season prompted increased exposure and as a result, mounting pressure, which proved to be consequential the following year. As Raty's draft stock expected to climb, his performance plummeted, being affected by the strain of ranking as a top National Hockey League draft candidate.
Raty bounced between Kärpät's pro club and junior affiliate in '19-20, completing the calendar with four points in 12 games in Liiga then moving on to represent Team Finland at the World Junior Championship, scoring two goals and three points in seven contests.
In what was supposed to be a season of growth and development during his '20-21 draft year, Raty regressed. With Kärpät's junior squad, he registered seven points in eight games but struggled when lifted to the big club. The forward competed in 35 games in Liiga, finishing with three goals and six points.
The underwhelming performance kept Raty off Team Finland's World Junior Championship squad, despite the pivot being a returnee.
"I wasn't happy about not making it," Raty told Scott Wheeler of The Athletic. "I know that I didn't play as well as I should have at the start of the season but I also didn't get the chance to play almost at all. I played like 10 minutes a game and only every other game. So, I basically knew that I wasn't going to be selected, not because of the skill level but because I just hadn't had enough games."
Despite the roller-coaster of draft rankings, going from a consensus top-five Draft pick to now being considered a mid-range Round 1 selection, the pivot still offers a medley of talent to any NHL team looking for a sizeable centre with decent hands and an above-average shot.
"Raty is one of the biggest mysteries I can recall of the last few years watching prospects," wrote Corey Pronman of The Athletic. "He looked like a high-skill playmaking center with good athletic tools. Then this season came and the offense disappeared. Raty's game looked so simple between the junior and Liiga levels and he was cut from the U20 team."
Raty is the third-ranked European skater entering the 2021 Draft and remains one of the most polarizing prospects due to the adversity he overcame.
"I've seen enough over the years to still believe in the player, but it's fair to say I approach him with a large degree of caution," Pronman added.
"He has skill in his game. He has quick-twitch hands and is great at handling the puck in small areas. He's a fine, albeit awkward, skater who makes skilled plays on the move but needs to add more pace to his game. His playmaking and shot are both solid quality, but neither are spectacular. He has some physicality to his game and brings energy to shifts. That's the Raty I think is there, and may show up in future years, but he didn't this season. Raty projects as an NHL second-line center after being one of my top-ranked prospects coming into the draft season."