The New York Islanders suffered their second consecutive preseason loss by a score of 4-1, as they fell Tuesday to the New Jersey Devils. While many Islanders failed to show much in the contest, two youngsters were more than noticeable, for good reason, in 19-year-old Aatu Räty and 20-year-old William Dufour.
Here are their player spotlights:
Aatu Räty Shows Off Maturity, Mental Game
In his first taste of preseason action, Aatu Räty centered veteran Kyle Palmieri and Kieffer Bellows. In 19:58 minutes of action, the former 2021 second-round pick notched three shots on goal, two hits, one giveaway, and won 40 percent of his face-off draws (6 for 15).
Aatu Räty played a total of 5:15 on the power play, mostly alongside Hudson Fasching and Kieffer Bellows. Lambert did use Räty for a stint on the penalty kill, 25 seconds worth.
Despite his age and experience on NHL ice, Räty skates like he is an NHL veteran of five years.
His hockey IQ stands out right off the bat, as he seemed to always be in the right position at the right time in all three zones.
On his first shift of the contest, Räty’s mindset was to get pucks on goal. He sent a puck from a sharp angle at New Jersey Devils netminder Vitek Vanecek. While he did not force the first-year Devils goaltender to make a tough save, it’s never a bad idea to test a netminder early.
Later in the opening frame, Räty lined up in the low slot and used his strong hand-eye coordination to deflect a point shot, ultimately sending the puck just wide.
When the puck was not on Räty’s stick, he went and got it as he notched an offensive-zone steal before passing the puck to the point to start a cycle.
That cycle led to a quality point-shot on goal.
In the second period, Räty lined up New Jersey Devils 2022 first-round selection (2nd overall), defenseman Simon Nemec with ease in the Devils zone. Nemec stands at 6’1, weighing 190 lbs. Räty stands at 6’2, 187 lbs, but based on the hit, one would think that Räty was a giant.
Räty did something in the second period that we rarely see NHL players do in close quarters. As Kyle Palmieri held the puck along the Islanders’ boards inside the Islanders’ zone, Räty lifted the stick of the Devils’ defenseman nearby before quickly getting open and asking for the puck.
It was a play that worked perfectly as Räty collected the puck and quickly fired it across the neutral zone where Kieffer Bellows was wide open to start a rush.
Later in the middle frame, when Jack Hughes made some spins and swirls to evade a few opponents, there was one lone Islander who remained with him. That was Räty, who eventually forced Hughes to get rid of the puck.
Räty had one lone scoring chance in the third period, and although he did not get the shot off, he bodied off two Devils players, using his frame to protect the puck while it was on his backhand.
“I mean, yeah, I was happy about the way I played,” Aatu Räty shared postgame. “I felt like I had good preparation and tried to work hard, and that’s all you can ask for.”
“I mean, sometimes you make great plays, sometimes not as great ones. Top of my head, I felt like our line was decent. We’re all working hard and made some good plays.”
It was a year ago, the last time Räty played a game at the NHL level, also coming in the preseason. He was happy to do it yet again this year.
“I mean, it’s always so great to be playing against such good opponents and kind of high-level games,” Räty said. “So yeah, a year ago [was] last one of those. These are harder games, so it was great to be playing.”
New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert liked what he saw from the prospect in his first preseason action.
“I did like his game. You know, I thought he played well,” Lambert said. “I thought he moved his legs, used his speed, and you know, he had a couple of good chances.”
“So there was certainly some there to like from him.”
Full Speed Ahead For William Dufour
Like a boulder gaining speed down a mountain, William Dufour showed off his skating in his first ever game in a New York Islanders sweater.
William Dufour, skating alongside Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas at even strength, registered one shot on goal, with one giveaway, two takeaways, one block, and a primary assist In a total of 14:31 minutes. He played 4:15 total minutes on the power play, lining up with Josh Bailey and Oliver Wahlstrom.
While his primary assist may have been a lucky one, the play was made, and thanks to Nikita Soshnikov’s snipe in the second period, Dufour netted a point in his first game.
After picking up the puck in the Islanders zone, Dufour quickly sent the puck along the ice up the rink. It ended up on Soshnikov’s stick, and he made no mistake with his shot placement.
Soshnikov on the breakaway 🤩 pic.twitter.com/2TtPgNzb0D
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 27, 2022
“There were two guys [there]…I saw both of them…and it went on Soshnikov’s blade,” Dufour said. “Pretty nice shot also.”
Back to his skating.
It seemed like every chance Dufour had to chase down a loose puck, he did, and he won most puck races, if not all of them.
Dufour’s skating has been considered a weakness, but when he gets going, he gets down the ice quick for a player who stands at 6’2 and 215 lbs.
Something that Dufour did not show during training camp was his quick decision-making, but he put that skill set on display in his first-ever preseason game. He was smart with the puck, getting it deep into the Devils’ zone where he could.
He had an active stick, blocking a shot with his stick early in the first period. He would slow the game down when he could, especially in the Islanders zone, allowing his linemates to regroup and break out, rather than just the ‘run and gun’ method.
Dufour had two steals in the second period and quickly did what he had to do following the steal to get the puck deep or find a teammate.
There were a few instances where Dufour did not execute, once overskating a puck in the neutral zone and then a weak execution in the offensive zone.
He had an excellent opportunity to set up a teammate in the second period, but his no-look backhand to Kyle Palmieri was just a little too soft.
“I’m waiting for that for two years, two and a half years,” William Dufour said postgame after being drafted back in 2020. “So that’s just nice to get my first NHL game.”
“In the warmup, just realizing that you were there, playing in an NHL game and, I mean, after the first shift was beside me, it went pretty well, I think, so I’m pretty happy.”
Before the game, Lane Lambert shared that he wanted to see Dufour play an up-down game, north-south game, and use his body to get to the dirty areas and create offensive opportunities.
Following the game, Lambert spoke on Dufour’s performance.
“He played well. He made a great pass on the first goal, and I thought he moved pretty well, used his body, and made some plays,” Lambert shared. “I thought he showed well tonight.”
I asked Dufour’s linemate, Matt Martin, what he thought about Dufour’s game.
“Yeah, he’s a big, big player. Physically, he can hang with the guys, and then he’s got a great shot, can make plays,” Martin said. “He’s only going to get better and better as he adjusts to the pro game here. Obviously, it’s faster than what he’s played in juniors, and probably a lot of guys equal to his size in this league compared to juniors as well.
“I thought he showed well, played hard. Made a great play on the first goal.”
The likelihood of Aatu Räty and William Dufour making the New York Islanders’ opening night roster is slim, but not impossible. Although it’s just one game, both worked extremely hard and were effective, more so than any of the NHL veterans that were on the ice. Because Dufour has yet to play in advanced level past juniors, there is no reason to rush his development, despite showing that he could hang with the big boys in the NHL.
Dufour has the raw skill that you look for in a prospect and a season in Bridgeport to hone in on those skills and adjust to the speed of the game and the will needed to have consistent success, will only be beneficial. As for his role with Bridgeport, Thompson will likely make him earn his stripes, starting him off in a bottom-six role.
For Räty, the NHL could be a stop for him during the 2021-22 season. He plays the game like a veteran, and his hockey IQ is off the charts. Playing professional hockey for the last three years in Finland did wonders for the 19-year-old and with already a handful of AHL games under his belt from last season, he could be the first or second call-up.
With Bridgeport, if he does not make the Islanders after training camp, should see big minutes in the top six under Bridgeport head coach Brent Thompson.