The New York Islanders and their fan base saw Aatu Räty’s offensive upside rather quickly upon his arrival to North America at the end of last season. And now both groups are seeing it on the NHL stage.
In five games for New York, Aatu Räty has two goals on eight shots and has shown off his two-way game.
However, in those five games, the most minutes he played was 11:25, which came in his NHL debut against the Florida Panthers in a 5-2 win.
Since that game, Räty has not eclipsed the nine-minute mark as head coach Lane Lambert has limited his ice time.
The Islanders bench boss played Räty on the fourth line because, as a 20-year-old rookie, Lambert wanted him to play a basic game as he got his feet wet in the NHL.
We have seen Lambert, and we certainly saw Trotz put players on the fourth line to get that said player back to the basics.
For Räty, it was about playing a simple game in the NHL, and he’s taken his role and run with it.
In the 6-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Räty played 6:15 minutes. That was the lowest minute total of his short career.
Despite the lack of playing time, Räty made a critical impact as he scored his second career goal to tie the contest at one early in the second:
Raty with his 2nd of the season to tie it up! How about that pass from Ross the Boss?! pic.twitter.com/bUoW13KO0d
— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) January 4, 2023
“I think he’s a very responsible player,” Lambert said following the game. “His ice time was limited in the first for a little bit, but it was better in the second, and then in the third, they had a push, and they were coming with three lines.”
“So we just managed it and managed him, but he definitely plays both sides of the puck, and he’s got some good intelligence. So I’m not too worried about it.”
Lambert was asked postgame if there was a process for a young player like Räty to have to earn more minutes at the NHL level.
“I think so. He’s growing. He’s learning every day,” Lambert said. “And the nice thing about him is he’s really in tune with what’s going on. You know, he works hard. He works hard off the ice. He works hard with the video.
“He’s going to be good.”
There’s a good number of fans who are confused as to how playing Räty with Matt Martin and Ross Johnston helps his development. And it’s a fair argument, given that Räty has shown rather quickly that he is not a fourth-line player but rather a top-six forward.
However, playing with those two not only makes Räty the primary offensive force on the line but also forces Räty to pay keen attention to the defensive game, making simple but educated plays.
And for a young player, Lambert is easing him into the NHL without having him go up against the best the opposition has to offer on a nightly basis, which has been beneficial for Räty and New York.
Given how the Islanders are currently aligning themselves, while players remain out of the lineup, there’s no room for Räty to move up.
Casey Cizikas has flourished on the wing alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Mathew Barzal. The Islanders have made it clear that Räty is a center and have not deviated away from that game plan, nor will they unless they are forced to.
And for the fans that want Räty with Barzal, it’s more than understandable. Put your top prospect with your best player, but it’s clear there is a game plan with Räty, and that game plan is not to rush his development.
“You guys are like McDonald’s. You guys want everything right now.”
Unfortunately for Räty, when Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Palmieri return, Räty is likely to head back to Bridgeport. That decision will have nothing to do with how Räty played, as he has been exceptional.
Rather than have him serve as a healthy scratch and watch from the New York Islanders press box, he will get the chance to play significantly more minutes under Brent Thompson and continue to develop.
With what we have seen from Aatu Räty in limited minutes alongside fourth-line grinders, imagine the damage he will inflict when he gets that chance higher up on the depth chart. And that chance will come.
Patience is a virtue.