The Colorado Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen is another fine example of today’s young breed of offensively-gifted hockey players. The native of Nousiainen, Finland was taken in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado with the 10th overall pick and has proven to be worth his high selection. Rantanen was already playing pro hockey at just 16 years old when he suited up for HC TPS in the Finnish SM-liiga in 2012/13. He had been with the club since he was 14 and netted two goals and an assist in 15 games in his first pro campaign.
Rantanen played with the junior and pro TPS squads in 2013/14 and notched five goals and nine points in 37 outings with the senior outfit. He played his final season in Finland as an alternate captain with the pro club and improved to nine goals and 28 points in 56 games. He then went down to help out the junior squad in the playoffs and posted six goals and eight helpers in just seven contests. His performance helped TPS win the championship and Rantanen was named the postseason MVP. By the time Rantanen was drafted he was ranked the top European player available.
He made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old on the opening night of the 2015/16 season, but was soon assigned to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League after six pointless outings with the Avalanche. He didn’t lose confidence though and chipped in with a goal and assist in his first AHL game, a 5-1 win against the Stockton Heat. Rantanen finished the AHL campaign with 24 goals and 36 assists in 52 games to lead his team and became the second-youngest AHL player to appear in the league’s All-Star Game.
Rantanen’s fine play led to an NHL recall by Colorado, but he failed to score a point in three games.
He finished sixth in AHL scoring in 2015/16 with his 60 points, was named to the league’s Second All-Star Team, the All-Rookie Team and was co-winner of the Rookie of the Year Award with Frank Vatrano.
When the 2016/17 NHL season faced off Rantanen was back in the Avalanche lineup and scored his first big league goal in November in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets. His confidence grew from there and Rantanen netted his first three-goal outing in February of 2017 in a win against the Montreal Canadiens. He completed the season with a team-best 20 goals along with 18 assists in 75 games, but the Avalanche missed the playoffs.
Rantanen improved again in 2017/18 and broke out with 29 goals along with 55 assists in 81 contests. His 84 points ranked second on the team behind his linemate and center Nathan MacKinnon. He also became the first Finnish NHL player since Teemu Selanne to score 80 points in a season. Colorado reached the playoffs, but were eliminated in six games by the Nashville Predators with Rantanen contributing with four assists.
Rantanen skates with Finland at international tournaments and helped his homeland win a silver medal at the 2016 World Hockey Championships. He also captained his side to gold at the World Junior Championships two years earlier. He also competed in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and the
Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament as a teenager.
Rantanen has great size for a skilled winger at 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighing the scales at 212 lbs. He’s an excellent shooter, playmaker and skater and owns a fine pair of hands. He can also play any of the three forward positions, but could improve on his physical play by utilizing his size and strength.
Passing: Rantanen is a sublime playmaker. He can detect the slightest opening in the opposition’s coverage and doesn’t waste a second to capitalize on it. Moreover, his touch is sumptuous. Seemingly every single one of his saucer passes lays flat on the ice right before it lands on a teammate’s blade. Few forwards put their teammates in better scoring positions than Rantanen.
Change of Direction: For a rangy player, Rantanen is elusive and sharp on his edges. He has become particularly fond of spinning away from defenders, but in general, he’s simply very difficult to pin down due to his combination of size, mobility and confidence.
Finishing Ability: Though he doesn’t quite rival the league’s pure goal scorers, he’s a very capable finisher from prime real estate. Not many forwards are able to pick corners as consistently as he does. More importantly, Rantanen is versatile in the way he converts his chances because he doesn’t rely on a specific area of the ice. He’s tough to get a bead on.
Puck Management: As skilled forwards are prone to do, Rantanen can get a little sloppy with the puck. That carelessness can translate to no-look passes into traffic or turnovers at the offensive blue line. He does seem to tighten things up in the postseason, though.
Engagement Level: Rantanen’s biggest flaw is inconsistency. You never know which version you’re going to get. When he’s in rhythm, he’s a top 10 player in the NHL. When he’s off, he’s surprisingly poor, struggling to complete simple passes or carve out quality opportunities.