ALLENTOWN -- The more you watch Isaac Ratcliffe, the more you understand why Ron Hextall, who was then the Flyers’ general manager, traded up nine spots to select the towering left winger early in the second round of the 2017 draft.
The 6-foot-6 208-pound Ratcliffe, who had 50 goals, 82 points and 105 penalty minutes in 65 Ontario Hockey League games last season for Guelph, is far from a finished product. But he’s getting there, and he’s about to play his first pro season.
His season will likely start in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but if he has a strong training camp and excels in the exhibitions, he could complicate the competition for the Flyers’ third-line right-wing spot.
“I just have to play my game. I have to keep that pace high, make sure I’m making the right decisions on the ice,” Ratcliffe, 20, said before the Flyers faced the Islanders in a rookie game Wednesday at the PPL Center, home of the Phantoms. “I‘ve got to get out of some of the junior habits, too, that I still have creeping into my game a little bit. I have to make sure I’m playing as a power forward and playing to my size and making sure I’m doing all the little things right.”
“Little things like making sure I’m not holding the puck too long — or too short — when I come into the zone,” he said. “I have to make quick plays. I mean, the pace is a ton higher when you get to the pro level and it’ll be a big change.”
In Wednesday’s rookie game, Ratcliffe was on the top line with center Morgan Frost and right winger Joel Farabee in the Flyers’ 5-4 shootout loss to the Islanders. Ratcliffe had an assist, drew a penalty, and was assessed a boarding infraction.
Goalie Felix Sandstrom, who stopped 24 of 25 shots, and German Rubtsov (two goals) shined for the Flyers.
Now it’s on to main camp, which starts Friday at 8:30 a.m. in Voorhees.
“Obviously, my dream is to play in the NHL, and the sooner it gets here, the better,” Ratcliffe said. “I feel I’m prepared for it right now. Like I said, I’ve got to get some of the bad habits out of my game, and whether I’m up in Lehigh Valley or with the Flyers, I’m going to make sure I’m playing to the best of my ability and do what the coaches tell me to do. I’m really excited for any opportunity that’s thrown my way and I’m going to make sure I run with it.”
During the rookie camp, Ratcliffe and linemates Frost and Farabee, a pair of former first-round draft picks, had noticeable chemistry.
“We’re good friends off the ice, and that helps a lot when you’re on the ice,” said Ratcliffe, a native of London, Ontario. “It makes it easier to talk to each other and make sure everyone is in the right spot at the right time.”
Ratcliffe is a natural left winger, but he has played some right wing — the spot the Flyers have open – in juniors. He said making the transition wouldn’t be difficult.
“I feel comfortable at that position,” he said. ”Obviously it’s an adjustment on that side, being a left shot, but I feel confident. It’s easier coming down the wall on that (right) side and pulling it to the middle in the offensive zone to get shots off.”
Ratcliffe said there are good and bad things about a position switch, but either way I’m going to have to work on all that stuff to make it to the next level.”
Frost and Farabee (a natural left winger) would also be switching positions if they won a spot with the Flyers at right wing.