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Don’t Overlook Mikko Rantanen Amid McDavid Mania

With all the buzz for wunderkind 2015 draftees and soon-to-be-NHL-rookies Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the Colorado Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen cracked the opening night roster–and hardly anyone seemed to notice.

The 10th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Rantanen missed the cut-off for the 2014 draft by just two weeks. One of the oldest prospects in his draft class, he is much more physically developed than the rest, which allowed him to play professional hockey in Finland as young as age 16. The Finnish youth did not become a mainstay with TPS in Liiga until this past season though, when he wore an alternate’s ‘A’ on his jersey.

In the 2014-15 campaign, Rantanen established career-highs in goals (nine), assists (19) and points (28) in 56 games played. At the conclusion of the regular season, he re-joined the U20 TPS squad for the postseason, where he dominated the competition with 14 points (6G, 8A) in just seven games.

But where the versatile forward really made his mark and left a lasting impression with North American scouts was the Under-20 World Junior Tournament in December and January. Rantanen scored four goals in just five games played with the Finns, and both his offense and leadership sparked his team.

His versatility is a result of a willingness to play the right side despite being a left-handed shot. This is often advantageous to a winger, as it allows them to create illusions that fake out goalies when they take their shots, such as screening the goaltender behind an opposing defender. His hockey sense and deft hands make for quite the impressive playmaker, but Rantanen does not use his size to his advantage.

At 6’3″ and 212 lbs., Rantanen is already above-average when it comes to size. In another three years or so, he could see a growth spurt add another inch or two, and he’ll certainly bulk up. But what the Finnish winger should have been doing all along is using that body to become a complete power forward. He’s already got the skill, so there should not be much holding Rantanen back from adding a physical edge to his game – a mean-streak, a willingness to take the body and dish out big hits, and a nose for the net.

Whether that will change as he transitions to the NHL, for now, Rantanen is purely a goal-scorer and a playmaker, and that’s exactly what the Avalanche need; especially considering their offensive derailment in the preseason. The Avs won just one contest in their exhibition series – a 5-4 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks. From then on, over the course of the next five preseason games, the team scored just one goal, tallied by Tyson Barrie. They went 0-4-1 in that five-game stretch to finish the preseason, and it was because they could not find any offense.

It’s not enough, and we know that. But at the same time, we have the quality players out there. Is it a concern? Yes, it is… I’d rather see that happening actually in the preseason than see it in the season. I’m not saying it’s a wake-up call, but we all know we need to do better… I think we’re trying maybe a little bit too many pretty plays. We know we have skills and sometimes it’s tempting to try a little pass between the guys, and we’re going to have to simplify our game and put more pucks at the net, and crash the net.

– Patrick Roy, Avalanche head coach

After a massively disappointing season in 2014-15, Colorado really cannot afford to miss the playoffs again. They acquired several pieces this summer–Carl Soderberg, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, Brandon Gormley and Jack Skille to name a few–that they hope can provide the change-up to spark the Avs and get them back to the postseason.

But Rantanen was the most important addition to the organization, as he is a pure offensive forward with a goal-scorer’s touch – and he impressed enough during camp to crack the opening night roster. Luckily for the Avs, there is no nine-game trial period to worry about, as Rantanen’s rights do not belong to the CHL.

They can send him down to the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL or call him back up at any time throughout the season. This will be especially advantageous for Colorado because given how he performs in the first few games, they can take their time in assessing whether he is ready for full-time NHL play or if he needs more time to develop in the minors.

As of now, Rantanen will most likely be starting on the left wing of the Avs’ third line, featuring Carl Soderberg at center and Borna Rendulic on the right wing. He will probably be tried with several different players on several different lines, and he may be shifted between the left and right side (both of which are familiar to him). With Nathan MacKinnon back at center and a bolstered defense featuring Nikita Zadorov and Francois Beauchemin, the Avs look to make a return to being crowned the Central Division champs in 2015-16.

It’s just a matter of time before we see whether Rantanen will play a key role in their success.

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