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2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers prospect review: Isaac Ratcliffe

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A tale of two seasons over here, folks.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

We’re circling back to rookie talk, folks, because in case you’d forgotten, the Phantoms sure had a lot of them joining the team this season. And few came with more buzz surrounding them than Isaac Ratcliffe, and few delivered a more polarized season.

Indeed, it really was something of a tale of two seasons within this one for Ratcliffe, as hit the AHL and it quickly became apparent that there was a lot he was going to need to adjust to, to be successful at this level. And there was a stretch where things were looking really rough, but the good news is that it didn’t stay that way, and just around the midpoint of the season, it was like a switch flipped and Ratcliffe looked like he was starting to get it all together. So what do we make of all that, let’s dig a little deeper and discuss, shall we?

By the numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM SOG SH%
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM SOG SH%
53 6 9 15 40 92 6.5

Starting with the scoring numbers, we see that there’s a bit left to be desired here. 15 points in 53 games isn’t awful for a player put in mostly a depth role, but knowing what we do about Ratcliffe’s offensive potential, we know that there’s a lot more to be tapped into here. This isn’t unexpected for a rookie working to get adjusted to the professional game, so we aren’t really too fussed about it, but it’s worth noting that it does fall a bit short of the potential.

But also worth noting, as we alluded to in the introduction, is that things started trending upward around the beginning on January, as Ratcliffe picked up nine of those 15 points in his last 29 games of the season. And while it’s still only a small uptick, it’s something, and furthers the point that he was starting to figure it out and things were clicking more for him down the stretch.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi For% Corsi For% Relative Scoring Chances For% Goals For Goals Against Goals For%
Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi For% Corsi For% Relative Scoring Chances For% Goals For Goals Against Goals For%
486 547 47.05 -0.83 45.53 21 24 46.67

And then dipping into these underlying numbers, we see that the shot impacts are somewhat middling. He’s a bit below the team average in both the shot quantity and quality differentials, which obviously isn’t really a spot we want to see him hanging out in for too long (though it is worth noting that those numbers did seem to be trending up a smidge as the season went on). And while this may not be something to get too fussed about in the now, it’s something to keep an eye on.

The one additional interesting piece, though, is that we saw that Ratcliffe has established himself as one of the team’s volume shooters. Indeed, his 122 individual shot attempts put him fifth among all skaters, and second among forwards, behind just Greg Carey. And while we didn’t see a massive payoff from this immediately, it’s something that’s going to help him be successful as he continues to get settled in at this level. More shot attempts will eventually lead to more scoring for himself or for his teammates who can pick up deflections or rebounds, so this is a trend in his game that we’re excited to see emerging already. It’s going to help him to be a real difference maker, if he keeps it up.

5v5 Neutral Zone Stats

Entry Attempts Entries Controlled Entry% Possession Entry% Exit Attempts Exits Controlled Exit%
Entry Attempts Entries Controlled Entry% Possession Entry% Exit Attempts Exits Controlled Exit%
119 104 45.19 59.62 116 93 51.61

The same is the case with these neutral zone numbers, that they’re somewhat middling. Ratcliffe’s Controlled Entry and Possesion Entry percentages are both a bit above the team averages (41.79 and 58.34 percent), but they’re a bit below the averages for forwards (48.93 and 64.55 percent). It’s not a bad spot to be in for a rookie, and makes a decent foundation to improve on, which is ultimately what we’d like to see.

One piece that does seem to bode well for future results is the fact that while, as we noted above, Ratcliffe wasn’t making a bulk of his entries with control, he was still generating a lot of them (104 in his 26 games tracked, good for four per game, on average). So this suggests that he’s trying to be one of the more consistent puck movers on his line, and if he’s able to get better about picking his spots and holding on to the puck on entries, it’s going to help him to be a much more impactful possession driver.

Three burning questions

1. Did Ratcliffe live up to our expectations this season?

For me, just about. I think coming into this season, I tried really hard to keep my expectations reasonable, because yes Ratcliffe did have a massive final season in Guelph, but he also had a lot working in his favor with the team and also the fact that he was older and bigger than a lot of his opponents, and he wasn’t going to have that same edge in the AHL. He has loads of potential, but we knew he was going to be a bit of a project, and a more or less normal development arc would suggest this first year in the AHL would feature some growing pains, and that’s exactly what happened. That’s not a step back, it’s just a normal part of development.

But we also did see quite a bit of improvement as the season went on, and that’s really what we needed to see. There’s still a lot of room for growth, but we still saw Ratcliffe taking the right steps to get adjusted to playing at the AHL level, and that’s pretty crucial.

2. What do we expect from Ratcliffe next season?

Really, we just want to see that growth continuing. Ratcliffe did a little bit of everything this past season to sort of get his feet wet, and that should put him in a pretty good position to build on the work he put in this season, and to feel more comfortable in these new roles. As his game trended in the right direction, he really seemed to also be gaining back the trust of the coaching staff, and that’s going to be a key piece as well. There’s likely going to be more asked of him next season, and he’ll have the chance to prove himself potentially against some tougher competition. Do we expect him to show up for the start of the season and immediately look dominant now that he’s done some growing pains? No, and they’re likely still not completely overcome yet. But Ratcliffe has proven he can adapt and be coached to play the right way within the system, and that’s going to be a key to his success next season.

3. What would we like to see Ratcliffe to improve on?

We’re going to resist the urge to be somewhat imprecise in answering this one and just say “everything, get better at everything and get more settled in to the system,” and really hone in on the physical side. One of the bigger adjustments he had to make to playing at this level, he admitted, was learning how to play to his size when he didn’t automatically have a raw size and strength advantage over his opponents. If he can get a little stronger and get better about winning puck battles and being stronger in the corners, that’s going to help his game out a lot, because the process in a number of other places (volume shooting and puck moving) are coming along well already. We saw flashes of this through the second half of the season, of him looking more confident and like he was figuring out how to out-muscle other players, but there’s still some work to be done. Now, we don’t want him to get too far into a purely physical, bump and grind type of game, but finding that sweet spot where that strength and physicality can help him do what he wants to boost his skill and offensive game, that’s what we’re looking for.