Third-year Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen is bound to take the next step in what could become a giant leap of an all-star-laden NHL career.
A left-shooting right winger, Rantanen established himself as one of the NHL’s premier specialty forwards last season. At age 21, the big Finn was one-third of one of the best lines in hockey and finished seventh among right wingers in the Professional Hockey Writers Association annual all-star teams.
Rantanen was the Avs’ second-leading point producer and goal-scorer with 84 and 29, respectively, playing in 81-of-82 games. He was particularly dangerous from the right circle in the offensive zone, often using his one-time blast off cross-ice feeds from right-shooting center Nathan MacKinnon at even-strength or the power play.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound winger credits his ability to stave off injury and play on a top line as to why his season was so strong, earning him five third-place votes from the PHWA as the best right wing in the world. That line, anchored by MacKinnon, 23, and includes power forward Gabe Landeskog, 25, at left wing, carried Colorado offensively, particularly it home, where the Avs finished second in the Western Conference in wins (28) behind conference champion Vegas (29).
Lines don’t remain intact from season-to-season unless they are an elite threesome, and the “MGM line” is exactly that, but it does have room to grow, particularly with Rantanen.
“We’ve seen him be a real dominant player on the ice but he still does have games, or stretches, where he’s not as effective as he can be,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Rantanen. “I think that’s what we saw of (MacKinnon) last year — every time he touched the ice he was a dominant player. Statistically speaking, (Rantanen) was as well. But I’d like to see Mikko get to that point where he’s a difference-maker every night for us and I think that’s where most of his improvement will lie.”
Rantanen, the top European prospect and 10th selection of the 2015 draft, enters the final year of his three-year, entry-level contract with the lowest cap hit among Avs forwards ($894,167). But he knows his next contract could make him the team’s second-highest-paid forward behind MacKinnon — although that’s rarely on his mind.
“The goal as a team is to show that we can do it again — go to the playoffs, but not just be happy with that, but go deeper in the playoffs,” Rantanen said Friday at the first day of on-ice training. “In the playoffs, anything can happen. We saw that with Las Vegas last year and Nashville before that.
“But our line is working well and we have confidence. I’m really happy because you start together — usually when it’s a new year you have new linemates and it takes time to get used to what they do — but I know the guys around me really good, Landy and Mac, so it’s helping a lot.”
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