VANCOUVER — Few players in National Hockey League history have been as physiologically prepared to absorb the shock of a trade as Aatu Raty was Monday when he learned he was a Vancouver Canuck.
He was at a spa. Serenity now.
“We went to a spa and I actually did not have my phone on me,” the 20-year-old Finn said of his eventful excursion to Manhattan as he was being packaged by the New York Islanders in the Bo Horvat trade. “So I had so many texts and calls that I missed. Luckily my girlfriend checked the phone — she was in the spa, too — and she actually had some texts about what you’re going to do in Vancouver. I was like, wait, what? Then I went to get my phone from the locker and then kind of saw what happened and I was definitely shocked. But again, I actually got really, really excited for the future.
There is only so much seaweed wraps and hot stone massage can do for a person.
Although he will start his time with the Canucks playing for their Abbotsford farm team, which has games Friday and Saturday in San Jose, Raty is probably the key to Vancouver’s success or failure in Monday’s blockbuster deal.
Winger Anthony Beauvillier, a reliable 25-year-old middle six winger, will give the Canucks some speed and tradecraft but is also an unrestricted free agent after next season. Vancouver also received for Horvat a first-round pick, protected by New York this year if the Islanders finish among the bottom 12 teams. And then there is Raty, an intriguing centre-prospect who crashed out of the first round of the entry draft two years ago but has significantly outperformed his selection spot, 52nd, since then.
If Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello thought that Raty was going to develop into the big, two-way, stud centre every team wants on its second or third line, he probably wouldn’t have traded him. And Beauvillier, who scores annually at about a 20-goal, 40-point pace but makes $4.15 million, may not have been in New York’s plans beyond next season. The pick is the pick, full of potential and uncertainty that slides one way or another on a moving scale tied directly to draft position.
Raty is the wildcard.
“I want to work on my all-around game,” he told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday morning. “I think it’s good but it definitely has to be better in order to be a winning player. But I think the biggest thing is my skating; I think it’s improved this year but I still really want it to get better. It’s such a fast league.”
Raty was third on NHL Central Scouting’s final list of international skaters going into the 2021 draft, but plummeted out of the first round after a difficult draft year with Karpat in Finland’s Liiga.
But last season, after a trade to Jukurit, he put up 40 points in 41 games as a 19-year-old in his country’s top league.
This season has been a whirlwind for Raty, most of it positive. He posted 10 points in seven games while helping Finland to the gold-medal final against Canada at the world junior championship in Edmonton in August. Then the six-foot-two forward made a successful transition to North American hockey, managing seven goals and 15 points in 27 games in the American League to earn a pre-Christmas callup from the Islanders.
Raty scored in his NHL debut against the Florida Panthers and again in a 6-2 win against the Canucks during a Jan. 3 visit to Vancouver. Those were his only points during his first 12 NHL games while playing single-digit minutes in the middle of New York’s fourth line.
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin, a former scout who has closely tracked Raty since before his draft, said Monday that the prospect would start in the AHL.
Interestingly, the Canucks have sequestered their few good prospects (Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Jack Rathbone) in the minors to shield them from the drama and chaos surrounding the NHL team and allow Abbotsford coach Jeremy Colliton and his staff to teach them the right way to play.
“I really liked him in his draft year,” Allvin said of Raty during a press conference Monday evening. “He was a highly-rated player and struggled a little bit in the end of his draft year. I think that’s why he (slid) out of first round. But he had such a strong draft-year-plus-one (season) back in Finland. . . in the top league there, and then came back and played really strong at the world juniors.
“I like the size, six-foot-two center, competitive, good two-way game. A lot of details. For a young player to step in right away from Europe and play the way he has done in New York here for 12 games is pretty impressive. That being said, it’s up to us. . . to help him to become a fulltime NHL player here.”
Beauvillier has been a fulltime NHL player with the Islanders since 2016, one year after he was drafted 28th overall.
He has been an important supporting player for New York, managing 102 goals and 209 points in 457 games, and was able to elevate his play during the Islanders’ extended playoff runs in 2020 and 2021.
Beauvillier is young enough for the window Allvin and team president Jim Rutherford envision for the Canucks to be competitive. But his play over the next 12 months will largely determine whether Vancouver tries to re-sign him or harvest another asset before Beauvillier becomes a UFA in 2024.
“As a player, you always want to find another level and I feel like I can do that in Vancouver,” Beauvillier said. “It’s very exciting for me. Yeah, I would say it’s kind of (an opportunity) to prove myself again or to prove it to myself. Mostly, I’m very excited to join this team and excited to play hockey and have fun in Vancouver. It’s an exciting time for me at this point in my career.”
Like Horvat, who was the Canucks’ captain until Monday, Beauvillier is leaving the only NHL team he knows.
“It’s never easy, very emotional,” he said of the trade. “It’s sad to leave these guys, but at the same time I’m very excited on the other hand. You don’t want to beat yourself up too much because there’s something exciting ahead. But it definitely sucks saying goodbye to everyone.”
He said Islander linemate Mathew Barzal, one of Beauvillier’s closest friends, texted him to say he was welcome to sleep in Barzal’s old bedroom when he moves to Vancouver. Barzal grew up in nearby Coquitlam.
“Honestly, I think timing is perfect,” Beauvillier said when asked about joining a team that just hired Rick Tocchet to replace Bruce Boudreau as coach. “You know, having a new coach and new coaches and stuff, I feel like it’s a new page for everyone. Everyone’s excited, I feel like. Having a chance to start from scratch with everyone, it’s exciting.”
At least, Beauvillier won’t have to leave home to join his new team. The Canucks return from the All-Star Break with a road trip that starts Monday in New Jersey and includes a game against the Islanders next Thursday.