Aatu Räty didn’t lean into the question. Asked in August about his goals for the season, he made no bold declarations about breaking into the NHL.
“Gotta play some exhibition games against some really good teams, some good players,” Räty told The Post at the time. “Obviously everybody wants to play in the show, but I feel like I can do my part and they’ll tell me where to play.”
More than four months later, it’s fair to say he has blown past that goal. On Friday morning while sitting in the Bridgeport sauna, Räty’s AHL teammates told him that coach Brent Thompson wanted to see him. He assumed it was a prank. Instead, he was told he would be making his NHL debut.
By the end of Friday night, he heard his name chanted at UBS Arena after he scored to give the Islanders a two-goal lead during the third period of what became a 5-1 victory over the Panthers.
“All day felt surreal,” Räty, who was up called due to the slew of injuries the Islanders are dealing with, said after the game.
At 7:10 of the third period, the 20-year-old walked into the slot and let loose with a shot that beat Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and helped seal an eventual victory.
“Watching on the Jumbotron, I didn’t even realize I made a move there,” Räty said. “I just got the puck and shot it. I felt like I almost blacked out.”
Räty said the puck, which was quickly marked with white tape on the Islanders’ bench, will be sent to his home in Finland. His family has a “little trophy room” for his and his brother’s memorabilia.
How long Räty sticks in the NHL this season will likely be determined by how long the Islanders are in need of a center more than by how well he continues to acquit himself. Sticking in a lineup that, when all are healthy, includes Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas down the middle would be a tough ask, though Nelson and Cizikas are currently injury question marks.
Friday, though, was a night he could enjoy on a singular basis.
“Something that I’ve wanted to do since I can remember,” Räty said. “Just so special.”
Ilya Sorokin stopped 22 of 23 shots as he got the start for the second straight night with Semyon Varlamov on injured reserve.
Friday was the Islanders’ first win in their Fisherman jerseys since April 11, 1997 over the Hartford Whalers.
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