The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the more pleasant surprises of the young NHL season. Despite the somewhat abrupt exit of Patrick Roy late in the summer — and the subsequent need to secure a new head coach with puck drop right around the corner — the Avs have thrived. In fact, they’re 3-1 through their first four games, with victories over Dallas, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
All three of those clubs are legitimate Cup contenders, making the early wins that much more impressive. And the players seem to be buying what new bench boss Jared Bednar is selling. The downside, of course, is that Colorado faces an extremely steep uphill battle while trying to climb up the Central Division standings. But this is a good start.
The best part for fans in Denver? This team might get even better in about a week.
That’s because Mikko Rantanen is likely to get called up from the AHL affiliate in San Antonio, and his upside is through the roof. The No. 10 pick in the 2015 draft has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle of exciting young players breaking into the league right now, but he has the ability to grab headlines once he nails down a regular role. And that time might not be that far off.
According to the Denver Post, Rantanen is likely to be recalled by the Avalanche at some point next week. The team has a huge break between Saturday’s tilt with the Panthers and next Friday’s matchup with the Jets, so they’ll almost certainly wait through most of that break to make the move. That way, the 19-year old Finn can log a little more ice time with the Rampage, rather than just sitting around waiting for Colorado’s next contest.
When he arrives, though, he could be staying for a while. He actually made the roster out of camp last year, getting a quick six-game look before being sent down, then suiting up for three more games in late March. In an era of Connor McDavid chasing scoring titles as a teenager and Auston Matthews notching four goals in his NHL debut, Rantanen’s 2015-16 campaign might seem like a disappointment. That’s not the case at all, though.
First, it’s important to remember that he was stepping into the NHL just months after being drafted. That’s not the norm for about 95 percent of the players breaking into this league, and he didn’t exactly look out of place. What’s more, he was borderline dominant in his time with the Rampage — erupting for 24 goals and 36 assists in just 52 games against grown men. That was good enough for a share of the AHL’s Rookie of the Year Award, and he supplemented that with an impressive performance at the World Juniors, helping Finland take home the gold.
In all, that’s a pretty good year of hockey. Rantanen certainly made the most of his opportunities in terms of developing his game, and he seemed poised to break in with the Avs right out of camp this year. Problem is, he suffered an ankle injury in the preseason that delayed his arrival.
He’s good to go now, though, and he’ll be expected to make a decent impact whenever he joins Colorado. He’ll have a good supporting cast to work with as well. In addition to knocking off those three highly rated opponents, the Avs put up 14 goals in those three outings — an average of 4.67 per win.
Granted, that’s an extremely small sample size — not to mention one that doesn’t account for a shutout loss at the hands of the Capitals on Oct. 18. But it is a reminder of what this young forward group is capable of. And that shouldn’t really come as a huge shock, considering they employ Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene up front.
Bednar has said in the past that he expects Rantanen to slide into a top-six role when he’s with the NHL club, meaning he’ll be skating alongside some of that top end talent. Given his reputation as a two-way winger who can set up and finish plays, he should be able to stick in that spot for a while if he plays to his potential. And considering his experience in the AHL last year, on top of his time spent with TPS of the Finnish League, it might not take him long to adapt to lining up against the best players in the world.
If anything, he might actually be ahead schedule.