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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Isaac Ratcliffe is a big project with big-time potential

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The Flyers moved up to grab Ratcliffe in June’s draft. Is a step forward in 2017-18 in the cards for the 6-foot-6 winger?

He’s even tall on his knees
Kate Frese / SB Nation

The tallest forward on the Flyers’ roster, at this moment, is Sean Couturier, who stands at 6’3” per the Flyers’ official website. Nolan Patrick measured in at 6’2” at the combine and, as someone who turns 19 in September, probably has a little bit more growth in him, but the point remains that this team isn’t exactly full of giants. In fact, courtesy of James Mirtle, the Flyers entered last season as the shortest team in the NHL.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The two-time reigning Stanley Cup Champions, whoever the hell those are, were one of the league’s smaller teams in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. And this decade’s best team, the Chicago Blackhawks, have regularly been successful despite not towering over their opponents — they were the second-shortest team in the year of their most recent title. But before we run around suggesting the Flyers ice a team full of 5’11” dudes, let’s not forget that the year prior, one of the league’s biggest teams — the L.A. Kings — took home the Stanley Cup.

The point is that successful hockey teams come in all shapes and sizes. Each and every year the league is getting faster, younger, and more talented, moreso than it is bigger or smaller. Find the best players whose skills fit the system you want to play and go win some dang hockey games.

Of course, that’s not to say big, skilled players aren’t rightly coveted by teams around the league. Other talents more or less equal, any team would take a guy at 6’3” over a guy at 5’11”. The player with size and skill remains one of the most appealing players in hockey, the kind that usually gets taken at the top of the draft and that you build a team around. And while the Flyers have added plenty of big, talented defensemen over the past few years (Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, and Samuel Morin range from 6’4” to 6’7”), their forward ranks haven’t quite seen the same kind of infusion of size.

This past June, the Flyers took a big swing on a forward in the second round of the draft that they think can be a guy like that. And if what they paid to get Isaac Ratcliffe was any indication, they clearly believe he’s got the potential to be something special.

No. 20: Isaac Ratcliffe

Position: LW
Age: 18 (2/15/1999)
Acquired Via: 2017 NHL Draft -- Round 2, Pick 35 (Pick acquired from Arizona in exchange for Picks No. 44, 75, and 108 in the 2017 NHL Draft on June 24, 2017)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Guelph (OHL) - 28 G, 26 A in 67 GP
Nationality: Canadian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: N/A (was not in system)

Day 2 of the 2017 NHL Draft wasn’t more than a few minutes old when Ron Hextall reached into his arsenal of 2017 draft picks (he entered the day with 10 of them), picked out a third- and fourth-round pick, and sent them to the Arizona Coyotes for the right to move up from No. 44 to No. 35 in the second round and select Ratcliffe, a winger from the Guelph Storm. Clearly wary of the possibility that Ratcliffe wouldn’t make it to his original pick, Hextall was forced to put his cards on the table for a guy he really liked — so much so that he made the deal to get Ratcliffe even after Coyotes GM John Chayka told him he thought Hextall was overpaying:

Chayka thought about staying at No. 35, where the Flyers eventually chose Guelph Storm winger Isaac Ratcliffe, but he also saw opportunity.

“We had Ratcliffe at the same spot pretty much, so I just put it out there to Hexy that this is an overpayment but if you want the guy, we’ll do it,” Chayka said. “He agreed to it.”

Surprising bluntness aside, Chayka’s point may have been a legitimate one. The exact value of the three picks Hextall gave up probably depends on who you’re asking, but as our own Charlie O’Connor pointed out back in June following the pick, one model suggests that the overall value of the picks Hextall gave up was equivalent to that of the 14th overall pick, which at first glance is a staggering cost for a pick in the 30s.

Now, that’s not a one-size-fits-all belief, and other models will disagree — heck, the draft value chart that our old friend Eric Tulsky posted on this very site a few years ago suggests that the Flyers may have actually gotten the better of the deal from a value perspective. But whatever your actual valuation of the specific package Hextall gave up is, the point remains. Ron Hextall, in his time as Flyers GM, has prioritized picking up — and succeeding on — Day 2 picks. To use three of them on one player tells us that he and the team’s scouts are pretty high on that player.

And to their credit, Ratcliffe, by all accounts, was not expected to be on the board at No. 35. Via Elite Prospects, here’s a round-up of his pre-draft rankings:

- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #13 by Hockeyprospect.com
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #22 by ISS Hockey
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #23 by Future Considerations
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #18 by McKeen's Hockey
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #15 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)
- 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Ranked #27 by TSN/McKenzie

We’ll likely never know exactly where Ratcliffe was on their final board, but given what the Flyers gave up for him, it seems obvious that they, too, saw him as a first-round talent that had fallen a bit further than he should have for whatever reason. Given a chance to snag what he saw as three first-round talents in one draft, Hextall thought that chance to be worth an extra third- and fourth-round pick.

So, with the context finally out of the way, let’s actually talk about Isaac Ratcliffe, the prospect. The first thing you notice about Ratcliffe is the thing that’s impossible to miss: his size. He measured in at an even 6-foot-6 at the pre-draft combine, which would make him one of the tallest players right now not just in the OHL but in the NHL.

That size advantage is evident every time he’s on the ice in an OHL game. Ratcliffe’s office of sorts tends to be within about five feet of the net, as he can frequently be found collecting rebounds and depositing tap-in goals in close for Guelph. His hands and puck control in close to the net are enticing, not too unlike the kind of thing we’ve grown used to seeing from Wayne Simmonds this decade.

But the area near the crease isn’t the only place he can succeed. Ratcliffe’s a solid skater, and a very good one when you consider his stature. And he’s not just roofing rebounds in close, because he’s also got a very nice wrister that he shows off from around the circles as well. You can see where most of his success came last year in this highlight video; for a big guy, there are a lot of 2-on-1s in here that end with him beating the goalie clean.

So what’s not to like about a big player who seems to be able to score goals in a number of different ways? Perhaps the fact that he isn’t quite scoring enough just yet. Ratcliffe posted 28 goals and 26 assists in 67 games last year with Guelph, good for points-per-game and goals-per-game marks that were just 12th and 8th (respectively) among draft-eligible OHL forwards (via prospect-stats.com).

If it seems like the talent is there, you’d think that Ratcliffe would be lighting up the scoreboard given the size advantage he holds every time he steps on OHL ice. The fact that he isn’t doing so is probably the biggest question surrounding him, and it could well be why he fell out of the first round. It’s how you can see him getting tagged with the “high-risk, high-reward” label — you can plainly see how he could end up being a really good player, but it’s far from a sure thing that he ever gets close to realizing that potential.

Now, with all of that said, there are some qualifiers here regarding his relatively meager point totals. First, Ratcliffe’s Guelph team this past year was not good, finishing with the second-fewest standings points in the 20-team OHL. With the exception of defenseman Ryan Merkley, a potential lottery pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, there weren’t many good skaters to help Ratcliffe out, and it’s possible that with a better supporting cast around him to get pucks near the net he’d have collected a few more goals.

Additionally, we should point out that Ratcliffe took a big step forward from his first OHL season (in 2015-16) to this past season. Ratcliffe jumped to 0.81 points per game and 0.42 goals per game in his draft year after posting marks of 0.28 PPG and 0.11 GPG in the year prior. The Flyers have taken a liking to guys who have taken big steps forward in short periods of time in recent years (Morin and Sanheim both come to mind here), and they could look at Ratcliffe the same way if they see a big step forward coming for him in 2017-18.

The potential is obvious with Ratcliffe, who by the way signed an entry-level contract with the team last week. Big, good skater, nice hands — you rarely hear about forwards with that combination of descriptors that make it out of the lottery, let alone to the second round. Once he adds some strength to the 200 pounds he measured in at back in June, he’ll not only be physically ready for the NHL, he’ll be one of its biggest forwards.

But while he’s adding muscle in the weight room, the task in front of Isaac Ratcliffe on the ice remains the same: absolutely dominate the OHL for the next two years. We know he has talent. Now we need to see him consistently showing off that talent in a league where, if he develops well, he could legitimately be one of its best players in a come 2019 or so.

Charlie mentioned in his Development Camp observations that Ratcliffe was losing board battles to much smaller Flyers defensemen, and while we don’t want to glean too much about a player from one camp weekend in July, it does sort of underscore where Ratcliffe is now vs. where the Flyers hope he’ll get to, because if he pans out, he shouldn’t be losing many more board battles. We know that Ratcliffe’s a big player, and that alone may get him into the NHL someday. But the Flyers are hoping that he becomes a big, talented player, because those guys are, still, the most valuable player any team can find.

How We Voted For Isaac Ratcliffe

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
23 22 n/a 20 23 21 19 22 13 24 n/a 20

How We Voted At No. 20

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Tanner Laczynski Mark Friedman Mikhail Vorobyev Isaac Ratcliffe Taylor Leier Mark Friedman Matthew Strome Morgan Frost Carsen Twarynski Morgan Frost Wade Allison Isaac Ratcliffe

How The Community Voted For Isaac Ratcliffe

Ranking # of Votes
Ranking # of Votes
1 0
2 0
3 0
4 0
5 1
6 0
7 3
8 2
9 7
10 4
11 7
12 20
13 26
14 36
15 49
16 52
17 63
18 72
19 72
20 90
21 75
22 76
23 85
24 70
25 40
NR 184

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Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25: