When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall wants a particular player in the NHL Entry Draft, whether it’s trading a perennial 20-goal scorer or multiple draft picks, he makes it happen.
Hextall sent veteran Brayden Schenn to St. Louis last year in exchange for the Blues’ 27th overall pick. He used that selection on forward Morgan Frost, who posted obscene numbers this past season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
In a less heralded move in the same draft, Hextall dealt three picks to move up nine spots in the second round to ensure the Flyers could pick hulking forward Isaac Ratcliffe at No. 35. Like Frost, Ratcliffe is showing why the Flyers invested so much to acquire him.
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound winger finished with 41 goals and 27 assists in 67 regular season games with the Guelph Storm in the OHL, and added five goals and four assists in six playoff games. It was a significant increase from the 28 goals he had scored the previous year.
Ratcliffe also played in two playoff games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the American Hockey League after the Storm were eliminated from the postseason.
His breakout season has established him as a top-five prospect in the organization.
However, just don’t expect him in Philadelphia any time soon. The 19-year-old will return to the Storm and serve as their captain this season, and if all goes well, then suit up for the Phantoms for a season or two.
“I know there is still a lot of development I need to make and I know the guys upstairs [in the front office] know that, too,” Ratcliffe said during the Flyers Development Camp earlier this month. “They are really pushing me to that point and I am really pushing myself also. We are not talking about time, but I am trying to get there [to play for the Flyers] as soon as possible and stay there as long as possible.”
If he does, Ratcliffe will be worth the wait. Imagine him flying down the ice, at either wing, as one of the biggest players in the NHL. Another scary thought is he plans to add weight and muscle this summer – and moving forward.
“I have to get stronger,” Ratcliffe said. “I have the height. I also need to work on my leg strength.”
He has deceptively good hands for his size, a nasty shot and doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff, especially in the corners. Ratcliffe likes to compare his game after Rick Nash, a seven-time all-star who has recorded eight 30-goal seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers.
“He’s a big guy,” Ratcliffe said. “He pairs speed, hands and toughness. He goes into a corner, and 95 percent of the time, he is going to come out with the puck. He just battles, is a great player and can play in all zones. He is not afraid to block shots, and not afraid to use his hands and skill sets to get to the net.”
The Flyers wouldn’t mind that kind of production at all, or even something remotely close. It would also explain why Hextall wanted Ratcliffe so bad in the first place.