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Islanders Aatu Räty Key Part of Future, But What About Right Now?

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New York Islanders Aatu Räty (Photo couresty of New York Islanders Instagram)
New York Islanders Aatu Räty (Photo couresty of New York Islanders Instagram)

It may have just been one NHL game, 11:25 minutes of ice time, but New York Islanders forward Aatu Räty showed that his future will be bright.

The New York Islanders have longed for a player of Aatu Räty‘s caliber to complement the already talented forwards the organization has to offer at the NHL level.

Contrary to popular belief, the Islanders have offensive talent, but consistency is where the Islanders have struggled over the last few seasons.

Brock Nelson has proven that his streaky production is behind him, putting together back-to-back strong seasons of 50-plus points, as he is on his way to around 80 this season.

Mathew Barzal has proven that in a looser system, he can contribute significantly more offensively and has not allowed his offensive production to nullify his defensive game.

Then there’s Oliver Wahlstrom, who has shown more of an understanding of what he has to do to be a two-way NHL forward.

Recent call-up Simon Holmstrom has shown off a defensive game that is towards the top of the NHL during his first stint in the Bigs and was starting to showcase his offense before an injury that has left his season up in the air.

What Räty brings to the table is a three-course meal.

He’s a two-way forward who understands his position and role on the ice in all three zones. He has the vision and hockey IQ to make plays, but what separates him from other Islanders prospects that have come through the pipeline over recent years is that he is not scared to make a play.

Räty was a breath of fresh air on Friday night in the New York Islanders 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers, as he skated as if he was an NHL veteran of five-plus seasons.

Just looking at his first NHL goal, his willingness to cut to the slot with a defenseman right in front of him showed grit and determination to make a play, something the Islanders have been missing from some regulars this season.

The Islanders’ offense may be performing better than they did a year ago, but that doesn’t mean the forward group has.

Outside of Barzal, Nelson, Zach Parise, and Anders Lee (at times), the rest of the forwards have not brought the offense they are capable of, disregarding the fourth line.

Players like Aatu Räty, who can come in at a young age and produce help the Islanders overcome certain struggles, and it also shows that despite an “aging core,” the window for winning doesn’t have to be closing at a rapid speed.

But for Räty and other players in the pipeline, why can’t the future be now?

Räty is a centerman, and right now, there’s a log jam at the center position that when the Islanders are healthy (Casey Cizikas day-to-day), there’s no room for the Finnish forward.

But when a player proves he can help a team, it’s on management to find or instead make room.

Again, Räty’s NHL sample size is just one game. He has much more to prove before the Islanders can say he’s ready to be an NHL regular.

But that is something management probably wants to find out sooner than later, as it impacts their trade decisions as early as this upcoming deadline.

So how do the Islanders work around the positional issue?

First off, again, if injuries keep a centerman out, whether it be Cizikas or Nelson, who left Friday’s game after taking a puck to the head, Räty can remain in and continue to prove himself.

But if the Islanders are healthy, the Islanders can still make positional decisions to give Räty an opportunity.

While it’s easy to say move Barzal to wing, given his 30.5 face-off percentage, the 25-year-old forward signed an eight-year extension as the face of the franchise, and it’s doubtful he would want to move positions.

The face-off issue is avoidable as whoever is on his line can take face-offs–like Brock Nelson.

Hear me out.

Is Aatu Räty ready to play top-six minutes at the NHL level?

Your guess is as good as mine after one game, but it’s clear that Lambert and the organization trust Räty’s game, so why not? The Islanders Pageau line go against the toughest opponents on a nightly basis, but Räty is a strong defensive player either way.

If Räty does become a staple in the lineup, that means someone has to come out, and as of right now, Josh Bailey is the player that would likely take that season. And before you say, “The Islanders aren’t going to do that,” Lambert has sat Bailey four times this season.

Let’s look at two lineup options to get Räty involved on a nightly basis:

Anders Lee-Mat Barzal-Oliver Wahlstrom
Brock Nelson-Aatu Räty-Anthony Beauvillier
Zach Parise-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Kyle Palmieri
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck

Brock Nelson-Mat Barzal-Oliver Wahlstrom
Anders Lee-Aatu Räty-Anthony Beauvillier
Zach Parise-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Kyle Palmieri
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck

The Islanders are not healthy, but we included the injured parties in this exercise.

The second option may look more appealing given that Nelson could take the face-offs for Barzal and also can help counteract the turnovers that come with a puck carrier like Barzal.

Nelson also has been the Islanders’ most consistent offensive weapon for two years, and Barzal could benefit from a player that can keep up with him.

Anders Lee on the second line is not new, given that he played there with Nelson for most of this season already, and while they did have strong chemistry a season ago, it hasn’t been there as frequently.

The New York Islanders are in a spot where the best players need to play on a nightly basis if they are going to find a way back into the postseason after failing to qualify a season ago.

Is Aatu Räty a player that deserves to play on a nightly basis?

That question could be answered soon, but only if he is given the opportunity.

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