Eric Wellwood remembers watching film of Isaac Ratcliffe and somehow losing him. Even the thought seems hard to believe. After all, Ratcliffe is a 6-foot-6 winger - it's tough to miss that large of a player in a junior hockey setting.
Then again, Ratcliffe is far from just sheer size. Wellwood quickly realized that once the lean, smooth-skating, goal-scoring force popped back into the frame.
"Sometimes the TV doesn't catch where he just moved and all of a sudden he has a partial breakaway," Wellwood said.
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From surprising camera operators to doing things uncommon for players of his physical stature, Ratcliffe became a terror over the course of his final Ontario Hockey League season. The Flyers' 2017 second-round draft pick scored 50 goals and 82 points in 65 regular-season games for the Guelph Storm. He added 30 more points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 24 playoff games to lead the Storm to an OHL title.
Eleven of Ratcliffe's points came against Wellwood and the Flint Firebirds during the regular season. Ratcliffe put up six goals and five assists in four meetings with the Firebirds. Wellwood, the former Flyer and now 29-year-old head coach of Flint, drew a clear conclusion about Ratcliffe after those four matchups.
"It seemed like he was out of his league playing in the OHL last year," Wellwood said a week and a half ago in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.
"He's got an asset that not many players get - that's how big and strong he is for his age. Being that big at this level, he can clearly dominate by using his size. I think that's the easiest thing to pick out, but it's his offensive instincts, he knows how to play the game, he can read when a defense breaks down."
Ratcliffe is not your typical big winger. He doesn't just wreak havoc with his size in front of the net. The 6-foot-6, 204-pound frame is noteworthy, but it's Ratcliffe's ability to dangle the puck, flash skill and score with finesse that has many intrigued by his NHL upside.
"His overall game but especially his skating - it stands out when you're a 6-6 guy that has skill and hands like he does," fellow Flyers prospect and OHL product Morgan Frost said in June. "As he's gotten older, he has really developed his skating part - that's been huge for him. He's just putting it all together now."
Ratcliffe went from a minus-28 in 2017-18 to a plus-36 last season. Over the past three years, his goal production climbed from 28 to 41 to 50. Off the ice, he is mature and well-spoken, sounding more and more like a pro.
But, on the ice, just how skilled and dynamic is the 20-year-old?
If he was a normal, typical-build hockey player, he would still be a very good hockey player and sought-after prospect. Then you add the element of how good he is, you combine the two - it's truly rare to have somebody at that age that physically mature already.
He almost has like a sling shot for a shot. He just whips it in the corner and the goalies don't even go down, they don't even see it some of the times because of a screen. Being that big, you get the flexibility of having a bigger stick, so you get more whip and he can usually shoot it pretty hard. He's got a lethal shot.
As a forward, Wellwood made the transition from the OHL to the AHL and NHL. The 2009 sixth-round pick played 164 career games with the Phantoms and 31 with the Flyers. He said the biggest difference from junior to pro isn't always speed. For Ratcliffe, Wellwood said, it can be "playing against guys that are relatively his size."
"He's just got to make sure he's working on his skating and continually getting stronger," Wellwood said.
In Ratcliffe, the coach sees some Pat Maroon.
"He kind of reminds me of that type of player," Wellwood said. "No offense to Patty but he might be a little bit better of a skater. You add that and he's got a lot of potential as a player in the NHL."
And everyone knows to watch him.
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