Since I mentioned him in my recent article about Morgan Frost’s chances to make the Flyers next year, you know I just had to write an article about the one and only Isaac Ratcliffe! If there’s any other prospect I’m incredibly optimistic about, it would have to be Ratcliffe. He’s my favorite forward in the Flyers prospect pool not named Morgan Frost or Joel Farabee, and I think he has potential to be one of the most dominant goal-scorers in the NHL eventually. So, as we did with Frost, let’s examine Ratcliffe’s case for making the Flyers for 2019-20:
For: He is definitely NHL-built
One of the potential knocks against Frost was his size, and there are concerns (whether legitimate or not) that he won’t be NHL ready. This is most certainly not the case with Ratcliffe. He is currently listed at a height of 6’6” and a weight of 204 pounds. That size is going to be troublesome for defencemen at any level. And not only is Ratcliffe a large forward, but he uses that size well (which I will look at later).
Against: He takes a lot of penalties
Ratcliffe totalled 105 penalty minutes this past season. This was a massive increase from the 58 PIMs he totalled the previous season. This could just be due to how referees in the OHL call games, and could also be skewed from an over presence in video on Ratcliffe. However, he does appear to throw his weight around, which given his increase in size, could be a contributing factor to his penalty minutes skyrocketing. Whether or not this will be a problem later on has yet to be seen, but coaches could potentially have to work this out of his game, which the Flyers would most likely do in Lehigh Valley.
For: He uses his size well (i.e. goals, goals, goals)
Ratcliffe scored 50 goals for the Guelph Storm this past season. This left him tied with Jonathan Yantsis for 5th in OHL goals, just below the 51 goals scored by Arthur Kaliyev. Ratcliffe just knows where to be to score goals, and his knack at finding open space is spectacular. He can also create space for himself using his skill and size to bully and outmuscle defenders out of the slot. Here, Ratcliffe cuts to the middle of the ice and follows up a chance to score, brushing off defenders easily and absorbing contact as if he were moving through wind:
He also possesses a very accurate shot. I wouldn’t call it elite, but it is very good. He certainly picks the corner here on this snipe, even if the goalie’s positioning is questionable (right shoulder):
Against: Not the fastest
Naturally, Ratcliffe isn’t going to be as fast at top speed simply due to the fact he has a lot more weight to carry than most other NHL players who are smaller. From watching his play, I don’t think Ratcliffe is slow, per se, but he’s never going to have very good speed in the NHL. Though, this can be passed over if his strengths shine through. I think it can, and the Flyers seem to agree. Assistant GM Brent Flahr has noted in March (via a Wayne Fish article) that, “I think his skating is coming. His top-end speed has always been fine”. They seem to value the intangibles in his game (you know, being 6’6”), and as long as he isn’t downright slow, then I don’t think the Flyers will have a massive issue with his skating.
For: Silky hands for such a big man
A 6’6” forward pulling off an elimination move like that? Yes please. He is a goal-scorer that not only can score by using his size and shot, but he can beat defenders on his own as well. If he can protect the puck and use his skill this effectively at the professional level, then there should be no reason for him not to be on this team in the top six and possibly even netfront on the powerplay where he has been at Guelph.
I would have put one last point about adjusting to the pace of professional hockey, but this would be a knock against any prospect trying to make the NHL. Not only this, but Ratcliffe will be adjusting whether or not he plays with the Flyers or the Phantoms, so it is a moot point to make.
Regardless, I think Ratcliffe will have either an equal or slightly lesser chance than Joel Farabee to make the Flyers, only in the sense that Ratcliffe would be the riskier move due to his size and evident readiness. The Flyers also seem to like Farabee more than Ratcliffe at the moment. As much as I would like a player with Ratcliffe’s upside on the Flyers, he’ll almost certainly be starting the year in the AHL. If he can show the same offensive skill accompanied with his physical dominance in the AHL, he’ll be pushing for a call-up in no time.
Though, again, I do think Farabee has the edge over Ratcliffe simply due to how the organization views the former. They almost certainly appreciate Farabee’s two-way play, and his World Junior performance only enhanced the Flyers’ confidence in him. With Ratcliffe however, while the Flyers undoubtedly like what the see in him, there appears to be a more cautious approach being implemented. They could still be seeing him as a project, even though he has proven he can score goals and be dominant in juniors. While I’m not projecting Ratcliffe to make the team even this upcoming season, seeing him dominate at the AHL level would convince me (and hopefully the Flyers) he should be in 2020-21.