Avalanche’s Rantanen & Lehkonen Face Pressure in Return Home

The Colorado Avalanche are on their way to Finland for a pair of games this weekend against the Columbus Blue Jackets for the NHL Global Series, and there is a bit more pressure to perform for a couple of Avs who are heading home.

Finnish forwards Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen will have increased scoring responsibility as the Avalanche have taken a couple of injury hits. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is still out following surgery, and Valeri Nichushkin has missed two games with a lower-body injury.

Rantanen Rolling to Start the Season

Rantanen has emerged as one of the most reliable wingers in the NHL but often gets overlooked because Nathan MacKinnon’s superstardom casts a long shadow. The Avalanche certainly don’t take him for granted; Rantanen has posted four goals and seven assists this season, putting him one point behind Valeri Nichushkin and MacKinnon for the team lead in points.

Related: Rantanen Becoming Avalanche’s Most Reliable Star

Latest News & Highlights

He’s no stranger to the top of the Avalanche scoring chart, as Rantanen led Colorado in scoring in each of the last two seasons. He set the tone in 021-22 with 92 points (36 goals and 56 assists), making him the only player not named Joe Sakic to lead the Avalanche in scoring in a Stanley Cup-winning campaign. He also paced the Avs in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season with 30 goals and 66 points in 52 games.

The Avalanche know they can rely on Rantanen to carry the load offensively, especially when some of the other stars are out. He helped push the team early on last season when MacKinnon was dealing with injuries and COVID-19. He has scored at least 30 goals in three of the last four seasons, with the lone exception coming in 2019-20 when he scored 19 goals in 42 games during another shortened season.

Lehkonen Helps Avs Lift Stanley Cup

Lehkonen famously came to the Avalanche at the trade deadline last season and played an integral role in helping the team to their third Stanley Cup. He scored six goals in 16 regular-season games but then piled up eight goals and six assists in 20 playoff games. It was the second consecutive season that Lehkonen advanced to the Cup Final after a memorable run with the Montreal Canadiens in 2020-21.

Artturi Lehkonen Colorado Avalanche
Artturi Lehkonen, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

The 27-year-old left winger has two goals and four assists through the first nine games of the season, putting him fifth in team scoring. He played the first four NHL seasons with the Canadiens, never scoring more than 18 goals or 31 points in a season. In his combined season between the Canadiens and the Avalanche in 2021-22, he managed 19 goals and 38 points, both career highs.

Related: Avalanche’s Lehkonen Starting to Fit In

Lehkonen was rewarded with a five-year contract extension during the offseason, making Colorado home for the foreseeable future. But heading back home, he might be more anxious for the Global Series than any other Avalanche player, and Colorado will need his consistency.

Finns Pair Up at Practice

Rantanen and Lehkonen have practiced on the same line as recently as Thursday, flanking center J.T. Compher on the second line. That combination hasn’t played together this season, although Lehkonen and Rantanen have played on the same line together often this season.

Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche Mikko Rantanen waits for a faceoff with Nathan MacKinnon. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski)

The Finns have played with MacKinnon, and that trio has logged more ice time than any other line on the Avalanche through the early stages of 2022-23. They have skated together for just under 95 minutes but have combined for just one goal. However, that combination’s 4.7 expected goals for is the highest of any forward combination on the team. That means that the opportunity is there for goals to come.

Colorado will need those goals this weekend, particularly if Nichushkin misses any more time. He skated at practice on Thursday but is still considered day-to-day. That could shake things up this weekend, but the Avalanche will be tickled to have their big winger suit up even for one of these games. If he is scratched again, that could break up the Finnish tandem on the second line, but both will have to up their offensive contributions.

Related: 10 NHL Teams Off to Unexpected Starts in October

The Avalanche are off to a middling start with a 4-4-1 record and only nine points through the first nine games of the season. They were .500 through their first eight games last season and then were dumped by the Blue Jackets in back-to-back games. The Avs promptly won seven of their next eight and rolled through the rest of the season to win the Stanley Cup. Hoping those consecutive losses to Columbus isn’t an annual thing, Colorado will need help from their pair of Finnish stars to prevent that from happening this weekend.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe