There were high hopes for Isaac Ratcliffe when the Flyers chose the mammoth left winger early in the second round — eight picks after they selected center Morgan Frost — in the 2017 draft.
Ratcliffe looked like a prototypical power forward. But he has struggled in two seasons with the AHL’s Phantoms, and the Flyers are hoping the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder will reestablish himself as a top-notch prospect.
Injuries slowed his effectiveness last season with Lehigh Valley, and allowed him to play just 22 games, during which he had two goals, eight points, and a minus-7 rating.
“I’m 100% healthy right now and I had a really good summer back home,” said Ratcliffe, 22, in a Zoom call with reporters after Tuesday’s development-camp session in Voorhees. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been and I’m excited to get into [veteran] camp in a couple weeks.”
Ratcliffe said he gained 10 pounds in the offseason and feels “ready to start this year in the NHL.”
Realistically, he will probably have to first prove himself with the Phantoms.
In his rookie season with the Phantoms in 2019-20, Ratcliffe — who was able to dominate on the junior level because of his size — struggled with turnovers and had just 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 53 games, but then-Lehigh Valley coach Scott Gordon was unconcerned.
Gordon said Ratcliffe made strides in the second half of that season, and “things started to click for him. He started to be a force down low and his puck possession got better.”
Last season, Ratcliffe missed the Flyers’ condensed training camp because of a fractured rib and a collapsed lung. He called Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin “my savior during that time.”
The London, Ontario, native also was hindered by a late-season ankle injury. When healthy, he played in 22 of the Phantoms’ 32 games.
“I feel like the last couple years, my offensive game fell apart a little bit,” Ratcliffe said. “I feel like I’ve gotten it back a ton since that last injury. ... I feel like I’ve come a long way and I definitely learned a lot. This summer, I focused a lot on my mental strength, too, and feeling a lot more confident coming into this year. That’s going to be a big part of my game, being able to play [to] my size and going into battles knowing I’m going to come out on top.”
When he resumed skating this summer, “I felt the same rhythm that I finished off [the season] with. I’m ready to do again.”
Ratcliffe has improved his defensive game since juniors, “and now I think I’m getting my offensive touch back. My shot is a lot harder than it was, and I’m getting to those tough areas, too. I’m excited to translate that into games.”
Mike O’Connell, the Flyers’ recently hired senior adviser to the general manager/player development, has been working with the players at the drill-oriented camp. He said Ratcliffe has “great range and an NHL body.”
Ron Hextall, then the Flyers’ GM, traded three picks (Nos. 44, 75, and 108) to Arizona to move up in the 2017 draft and select Ratcliffe at No. 35. At the time, Ratcliffe said he modeled his game after Rick Nash’s.
Ratcliffe is working hard to justify the trade. No one is expecting him to score 50 goals like he did in his final Ontario Hockey League season in 2018-19, but the Flyers are hoping he one day plays a key role as a big left winger who provides scoring and does dirty work in front, a la James van Riemsdyk.
The Flyers’ over/under for points is 94.5, according to BetOnline. It’s 92.5 for the expansion Seattle Kraken.. ... The Flyers will have a three-on-three tournament to end their development camp from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in Voorhees. It’s closed to the public because of COVID-19 concerns. ... Samuel Ersson, one of two goalies in camp, said he “calmed down” his game and played with more composure in the Swedish Hockey League last season. He hopes to start this year in the AHL. ... Defenseman Mason Millman (6-1, 176 pounds) said playing in the AHL last season at age 19 was a confidence booster and showed him the type of strength and weight he needs.