One thing that’s clear from Ron Hextall’s four years as the Flyers’ general manager: He deeply covets draft picks and stockpiles them at every opportunity.
So when Hextall dealt three picks to Arizona to move up nine spots in the 2017 draft and selected Isaac Ratcliffe, he must have had off-the-chart reports on the big left winger.
Ratcliffe, taken early in the second round (35th overall) last year, has not disappointed his general manager.
Playing for the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward was dominating in the second half of last season and finished with a career-high 41 goals and 68 points in 67 games. Ratcliffe added five goals in six playoff games, then scored a goal in two games with the AHL’s Phantoms.
Now, he’s in his second development camp with the Flyers and feeling much more comfortable than he did a year ago.
“My goal after last camp was just to get a lot stronger,” he said last week, after finishing drills at the team’s practice facility in Voorhees. “I have the size to actually get heavier, and this year I wanted to come back and really show I developed a lot this year and put on a few pounds. I want to show I can compete with the toughest guys in the league.”
Ratcliffe, 19, said he wants to put on even more weight, continue to add strength, and increase his speed in the next year.
“It’s a fast game, and it’s a game that’s decreasing in size, too,” he said. “And I have to show that I can bring both speed and size to the game, and my skill set as well.”
Ratcliffe, who has good hands for someone his size, figures to play one more year in the OHL – he will serve as Guelph’s captain — before going to the Phantoms in 2019-20. He has not set a timetable for reaching the NHL, but if he continues to make strides, he could be with the Flyers in 2020-21.
“I know I still have a lot of developing to do, and I know the guys upstairs know that, too,” he said about Hextall and his staff. “We’re working together, and they’re really pushing me to get to that point, and I’m pushing myself. We’re not really talking too much about time [to get there], but we know I’m trying to get there as fast as possible and stick there as long as possible.”
His two games in the AHL were eye-opening.
“It’s a lot faster game,” he said. “When you get the puck on your stick, it has to go right off. You have no time, and it’s a lot faster, too. You really have to keep your shifts short and keep your energy high as much as possible. It’s a fast game, and there’s older guys. I was playing with some 16-year-olds back in Guelph, and then I went up to the Phantoms, and I was playing against guys that were 30-, 30-plus-years-old, and they’re a lot stronger, a lot more mature, and they definitely know the game a lot more.”
Ratcliffe, who has played both wings in the OHL, tries to model his game after Rick Nash.
“He brings that speed, those hands, and that toughness,” Ratcliffe said. ”When he goes into the corner, 95 percent of the time he’s going to be coming out on top of those battles. He’s a great player, and he can play in all zones, too. He’s not afraid to block shots, and he’s not afraid to use his hands and use his skill set to get to the net and put pucks in as well.”
Ratcliffe had high praise for center Morgan Frost, who he has faced in the OHL. Frost is the Flyers’ No. 1 prospect, while Ratcliffe is No. 2. Hextall considered drafting Ratcliffe with the 27th overall pick last year, but went with Frost.
“He just knows the game so well,” Ratcliffe said of Frost. “He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with and played against. Playing against him my whole OHL career, he’s definitely been a guy to watch whenever it’s pregame meetings or pregame talks; he’s a guy who’s on our list to watch and to make sure we’re staying on top of him every game.”
Frost, who has bulked up to 184 pounds, had 112 points (42 goals, 70 assists) in 67 games last season.
“The passes he makes [are unbelievable]. He won’t have to see a guy across the ice; he’ll just know he’s there,” Ratcliffe said. “The puck always seems to find his stick no matter where he is on the ice. … I know he’s going to be a top player in the NHL one day.”
The Flyers feel the same way about Ratcliffe.
Development camp begins at 9:15 a.m. Sunday. … Monday’s final session will be a three-on-three competition from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.