Often in the shadow of fellow superstar Nathan MacKinnon, it is probably fair to say that Mikko Rantanen doesn’t get the league-wide credit he deserves. More of a goal scorer than MacKinnon, the Finnish forward can use that to separate himself and show off his own skills, and he can do that this season.
Rantanen is currently right on pace for a 50-goal season, and he’s put himself there without MacKinnon feeding him the puck. A hattrick against the Nashville Predators threw Rantanen into the limelight once again and put him on the 10-goal mark for the season, from 15 games played. That pace would give him 50 goals in 75 games if he was able to keep it going, and with a boost likely to come when he reunites with MacKinnon, this target is certainly achievable.
The Evolution of Rantanen
It is fair to say the 25-year-old has come a long way since he scored 20 goals in his first full NHL season back in 2016-17. However, the promise has been there all along. An excellent one-timer, fantastic wrist shot release and the size to put himself into any position on the ice he wants, all come together to give Rantanen the tools to be a star in the NHL, exactly what the Avalanche hoped for when they drafted him 10th overall back in 2015.
In the shortened campaign last season, Rantanen came the closest he has ever been to a 50-goal pace, with 30 goals from 52 games for the Avs. On top of this, he’s constantly putting assists on the board, with more assists than goals in every season so far, with the exception of his first full season in the league. Given that, it is likely that a 50-goal season would also mean a 100-point season, certainly not bad for someone who many outsiders believe, simply benefits from playing with MacKinnon.
At just 25, there is plenty still to come, and given his big frame, Rantanen is only just beginning to properly fill out and use the big body he has to his advantage. Including this season, he has four seasons remaining on his $9.25 million per year deal, and if those all come with 50 goals, it will certainly provide the Avalanche with great value for money.
Injuries Could Play a Part
One of the main ways in which Rantanen could be stopped this season is with an injury to either him or MacKinnon. The Avs are 18 games through their season so far, Rantanen has missed three of them and MacKinnon has missed 10 of them, though he is expected back very soon.
The scoring pace we have seen so far will not be easy to maintain, but it will be far easier to do if he has MacKinnon by his side. In the eight games that the 26-year-old center has played, he’s bagged nine assists and we all know that when this pair get going, Rantanen is the man to finish many of the chances that MacKinnon creates.
Anyone chasing 50 goals needs to stay healthy, but for Rantanen, the quest for 50 is made much easier if he has a fully fit MacKinnon alongside him for the remainder of the season.
What Do Future Projections Look Like?
We are talking here about Rantanen bagging 50 goals this season, but long-term, there is every chance that he scores 50 goals in multiple seasons as an Avalanche player. The team are committed to him, as well as Gabriel Landeskog, who signed a big deal in the summer, and it seems highly probable that MacKinnon will follow suit with a big money, long-term deal when his current one expires.
That means the winger is set for multiple years with high quality line mates, both of which have the ability to create chances for him. If the Avalanche are to win a Stanley Cup with this group, as many predict they will, 50 goals will need to become the standard season for Rantanen, and not a one-off good campaign.
Assuming no injuries, that can begin this season, with the Finnish forward on course for 50 goals for the first time.
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Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.