When the Portland Winterhawks went into the 2008 WHL Draft it was obvious what they needed – scoring.
Coming off a season in which they scored 132 goals as a team, they wanted offensive creativity with the second pick in the WHL draft.
Ty Rattie fit the bill.
Rattie had just finished the 2007-08 season by shattering Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) scoring marks in notching 75 goals and 131 points, both league records. Considering the talent that has coming through that circuit, it’s a more than impressive season.
"I really didn’t even know about the record until halfway through the season when a couple people came up to me and told me about it," he said. "I kind of kept it in the back of my mind throughout the season and thought it would be a nice accomplishment. When I broke it it felt good, but we (hosted) Western’s that year and that was the big thing.
"It’s great to look back on it and know all the great players that have been through the AMBHL, to have that kind of record is something I’ll remember forever."
Fast forward a year and a half and all the 6′ 170-pound right winger has done is continue to score.
The Airdrie, Alberta native played with the Strathmore UFA Bisons AAA midget club last year and dominated against older competition, scoring 29 goals and 54 points in 34 games, good for fourth in the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL). He even managed to get into 10 games at the end of the season with the struggling Winterhawks, scoring his first WHL goal.
While Rattie hasn’t been as prolific early on in his first full season in the ‘Dub, there’s no doubt he’s hitting his stride after an early-season hand injury forced him to miss the end of the preseason.
"That was actually my first broken bone," he said of the injury. "I broke the bone that connects my thumb to my hand and I had surgery two days after. It was tough on me. I’ve never been out for that amount of time.
"If an injury was to happen, it happened at a good time, during training camp. I only missed a couple games."
Adjusting to a new city, a new country, a new school, and a new league was a lot for the the 16-year-old.
It took a little home cooking for him to get back on track.
During the Winterhawks only Alberta road trip this season in October, Rattie found his groove. In his only trip to the Saddledome in Calgary this season (a 20-minute drive south of Airdrie) he found the back of the net, which kicked off a five-game point streak.
"I think the coach noticed that and I’ve been getting more and more ice as we go along," he said. "I feel like I belong now. I feel good."
He is now playing his game and it has shown up on the scoresheet with seven goals and 19 points in 33 games.
"When anybody comes into the WHL I think there’s a period of transition and I thought I was just trying to fit in," Rattie said. "I was trying to lay bodies and I don’t think that’s a huge part of my game.
"Lately I’ve been carrying the puck more and I feel more comfortable every game."
In December, Rattie put up seven points in eight games before heading off to the 2010 World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Timmins, Ontario as part of Team Pacific.
In five games at the U-17’s, all Rattie did was put up two goals and nine points in five games. He was the top-scoring Canadian player at the tournament behind three Russians, two Americans and a Swede.
Winterhawks head coach/general manager Mike Johnston is expecting big things from Rattie in the second half. Johnston thinks the injury contributed to the slow start.
"As you know we saw him last year when he came in this year he had a great camp and he was really playing well," he said. "(The injury) really set him back to start the season and we were kind of concerned because he’s a young kid."
While Rattie will turn 17 on Feb. 5 and still has 18 months until he’s eligible for the NHL draft in 2011, the talk has already started. Vision, playmaking ability, natural hands and the obvious goal-scoring acumen make him an asset any team would love to get in the fold.
Self awareness is also a trait that Rattie possesses, knowing he has a lot to work on.
"I think I’m responsible defensively and I can finish checks on the forecheck," he said. "I need to continue to work on my defensive positioning and skating. I’ve got all of our games so far on a lap top, so if we had a game Saturday night, I’ll watch that game Sunday morning and just look over my shifts and stuff like that."
Skating has been something he has worked on since he was a kid. Some scouts are concerned, some aren’t. Johnston is not.
"He’s one of those players you see who has unique abilities," the coach said. "I remember when the Sedins (Henrik and Daniel) came into the (NHL) and they weren’t the greatest skaters, but their vision allowed them to make plays that others couldn’t. I think Ty’s a little bit like that. He has the capabilities of making plays that other people don’t."
With the Winterhawks sitting in third place in the WHL’s Western Conference and in the midst of a playoff race for the first time in years, Rattie is happy to be part of the turnaround.
"I knew (at draft time) they were going through some rough patches," he said of the Winterhawks organization. "At that time I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get drafted. If it was my choice I would have gone there the next day and started playing for them.
"It’s a great place to play. I love it here."
The success makes it easy for him to love it.
"I think we came in as a team this year and shocked a lot of people so far," he said. "Our goal at the beginning was to make the playoffs, now
I think it’s to go deep in the playoffs.
"We’re excited about the future with the young guys we have. I just want to contribute to this team as much as I can."
Johnston notices his competitive side and how it takes a toll when he doesn’t succeed every time. Going from 75 goals in a season to settling for a complementary role as a young player can be tough.
"When the game is on he is so focusing on winning and contributing -– that’s a great thing to have," Johnston said. "It’s a learning curve and it is at every level. He has high expectations for himself."
The fact that hockey is now is career sunk in last summer when he was reading The Hockey News’ draft preview and he found himself ranked No. 5 for 2011.
"I first saw it in my school library back home," he laughed. "I was just flipping through and I came across that. I was shocked. That’s a magazine I’ve been reading all my life and to see my name in it, it was a big eye-opener. That’s when you know you’re in this hockey business for real."
He tries not to think about going high in the draft, but human nature kicks in once in a while.
"It’s in the back of my head at all times," he said. "To even think that my NHL draft is next year … that’s something big to think about. Every day you go to the rink and you see NHL scouts walking around and talking to the coaches and talking to your teammates. It’s a little nerve rattling, but you’ve got to put that stuff aside and just make sure you play your game out there. That’s part of the game."
Johnston realizes the pressure is always on a No. 2 overall pick, but the organization isn’t concerned where players are drafted by NHL clubs.
"Even with our ’92 kids this year and we have four rated in the first two rounds, I don’t talk to them at all (about the draft)," Johnston said. "I don’t get focused if a kid is at No. 10 or at No. 80. They get so much pressure and so much attention.
"It’s something that athletes have to deal with as they move along. Part of the preparation is learning to deal with that, but I think it’s too much, too early. Focus on the right things and everything will take care of itself."
Rattie will be hoping that statement rings true when 2011 rolls around, but for now, he has a playoff run to focus on.