Flyers

Flyers

Ron Hextall looked on from his perch at Flyers Skate Zone.

He then looked over at some of his staff.

They essentially shook their heads watching this lean, 6-foot-6 winger.

The physical stature was only part of the phenomenon.

"We're standing out there, going a guy that big shouldn't have that good of hands," the general manager said two weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "He's got good hands. He moves really well for his size and his age. You look at a 19-year-old kid who's as tall as he is and as coordinated as he is, it's not the norm."

Isaac Ratcliffe has made it his norm.

In his earlier hockey days, he didn't want to stand out for just his sheer size. 

Now, he is much more than a towering presence. When he hits the ice, he turns heads with his soft touch and dexterous hands — puck skills you wouldn't expect to come out of a 6-6, 210-pound teenager.

Surprised? Good.

"When I was younger, it was a big thing that I used to work on at the end of practice or the end of a skill session," Ratcliffe said. "A guy my size, you don't usually see that and I wanted to prove guys wrong. I can bring any sorts of items to the table and I really wanted to show that I could bring my hands, as well."

In the 2017 draft, the Flyers wanted Ratcliffe so much, they traded three selections to move up and snatch him at 35th overall. Hextall and company liked Ratcliffe's ability and upside, so they're not shocked to see his progression, but they are super pleased.

 

Ratcliffe, wiry and mobile, jumped from 28 goals and 54 points with the OHL's Guelph Storm in 2016-17 to 41 goals and 68 points in 2017-18.

"To be that linked up at that age is amazing," Hextall said. "He's come a long ways in a year. His all-around game needs work. His wall play and things like that, which most guys at that age do. But his hands, his patience, his poise with the puck — he's got some scoring touch. He's got a reach. To have that poise and reach, developed to put it around the goalie you've seen this week. … We're excited about the prospects for him."

If Ratcliffe was ever viewed as a project, he no longer looks like one. At 19, he's also astutely aware of the NHL trends, which fuels his motivation to be different.

"I still have to get stronger. The size is there, I just need to put on that weight — really build up that core strength, build up my leg strength and definitely work on my speed a lot, too," he said. "It's a fast game and it's a game that's decreasing in size, too. I have to show that I can bring both speed and size to the game, and my skill set, as well."

For Ratcliffe, it's all about mindset. When you're 6-6 and frequently misperceived, it has to be.

"If you're going to go into a battle and you think you're going to lose it, you're going to lose that battle. If you go in and think you're going to win, you have a big chance of coming out on top," Ratcliffe said. "When you get that confidence in there and when you get that strength, pair those two together and you're going to be unstoppable. And that's what I've been trying to do — keep my confidence high and keep my strength high over the past couple of years. That's really gotten me where I am today and that's going to push me forward."

Ratcliffe's fourth junior season is ahead of him in 2018-19. He should have everyone's attention, and not just for his height.

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