Aatu Räty was almost as excited about winning his first face-off as he was about scoring his first-ever goal during an eventful NHL debut for the New York Islanders on Friday night against the Florida Panthers.
“Always, always feels good to contribute,” Räty told amNewYork on Tuesday morning. “And especially the goal. Even though let’s say I didn’t score, I still felt like I had a great game. Just kind of doing my role out there.
“I was almost more happy about the first face-off that I won as a center. It’s always a big thing. It’s kind of the little things like that.”
The 20-year-old Finnish prospect is one of the Islanders’ most talented youngsters waiting in the wings to get a crack at full-time play at the NHL level. Friday night’s showing obviously didn’t hurt as he provided the Islanders with an insurance goal during the third period while recording three shots and winning a pair of face-offs.
It was a good enough performance to hang with the team on the other side of the Christmas break where he’s expected to center the fourth line of an injury-hampered Islanders on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. All this while getting his first taste of hockey in North America after making the jump from Finland this summer. He began the season with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
“Obviously I had a good time in Bridgeport. Really, really happy to be there to play in games and find the right way to play the game in North America,” Räty said. “But you’re still always dreaming about [that call up to the NHL] happening and then when it finally happens, it just felt so nice.”
Centering the fourth line wasn’t quite what was expected from a player of Räty’s skillset and ceiling. This is a playmaking center that could eventually provide an influx of goals for a team that’s starving for consistent secondary scoring.
“He’s a smart player,” Islanders forward and leading scorer Brock Nelson said of the youngster. ” I think he kind of slows the game down. He’s going the puck. He’s strong on it and he competes. So it’s a lot of good characteristics of a center…You hope as a young guy, you’re just trying to come in and play as best you can and at the same time building your game.
“So I’m sure he’s looking to kind of build on that. And for us, that’d be huge for us.”
How long he’ll have to build on that at the NHL level remains to be seen. While Räty continued work with the fourth line on Tuesday, roster spots will be thin once Kyle Palmieri and Cal Clutterbuck are back in the fold from injury to force usual fourth-line center Casey Cizikas back to his normal spot.
Palmieri and Clutterbuck skated on Thursday but still remain on the shelf.
“I obviously want to stay here but for me, it’s just trying to help the team play as well as they can,” Räty said. “There’s so much stuff that goes into it, but I’m really happy to be here and I’m going to fight for the spot.”
“We’ll just keep seeing how he goes here,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert added. ” He’s, he’s growing…we’re happy about that.”