Mikko Rantanen: Avalanche’s Flying Finn

You may not know who Mikko Rantanen is, but you should. Currently, he leads the NHL in assists (12) and is tied for first (1st!) in points (16). The 21-year-old winger is a key part of one of the best, if not the best lines in the league. He’s the young pup on the Colorado Avalanche’s top line alongside two graybeards – 25-year-old Gabriel Landeskog and 23-year-old Nathan MacKinnon and they have been lighting up the NHL since last season.

After 38 points (20g-18a) in 75 games for Colorado during the 2016-17 season his point total jumped up to 84 points (29g-55a) in 81 games last season; this season in just nine games he already has 16 points (4g-12a). When informed that Rantanen was leading the league in assists following the Avs 5-3 win in New Jersey last week, Landeskog – who had just recorded a hat trick – looked over at the locker next to his stall, grinned and replied, “He’s got two snipers on his line so…”

Finnish Flash

Rantanen was told the same stat prior to Landeskog arriving in the locker room, and in typical hockey player fashion, he deferred the credit to his superstar linemates. “I’m trying to have patience with the puck, and trying to always make the right play,” the Finnish winger said. “It’s not always easy in this league because there are a lot of good players, but I’m fortunate to play with two great players every shift and it really helps me a lot.”

He also went on to explain that last season’s success has definitely carried over to this season and so has his confidence. “I was healthy all summer and I felt really good coming into camp. I knew I was going to play with these two at the start of the season so it obviously gives you confidence because of the chemistry we had last year and it’s obviously easier when you know your linemates,” Rantanen said. “It also helps that we have pretty much the same team from last year.”

MacKinnon Rantanen Landeskog Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrates with Mikko Rantanen and  Gabriel Landeskog (92) after scoring a goal. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Rantanen On The Run

The Avalanche only have three players on their roster over 30-years-old and you can see the youthful energy when you watch them play night after night. All three of their players on the top line were high draft picks, with Rantanen as the lowest — 10th overall at the 2015 NHL Draft. “I think the chemistry is a big thing, you need that to have a good line. It comes with the amount of games you play,” said Rantanen. “We played last year together so this year it was easier to start with them because you know what to expect. I think every one of us got better over the summer and it’s been (a) good (start). We just have to keep going every night.”

In the win against the Devils, who came into the game as the NHL’s lone unbeaten team at the time, Colorado controlled the pace of play for the majority of the game and even when they fell behind early in the third period they never wavered from their game plan and kept pressuring New Jersey in all three zones. “The first period we felt really good. They were playing better in the second and we were on our heels a little bit but in the third, we were playing fast and making smart plays with the puck,” said Rantanen who had four points against the Devils and has at least one point in every Avalanche game this season. “We have to do that, especially on the road if we want to win.”

Mikko Rantanen
Mikko Rantanen at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

“We were really good on the forecheck in the third period. Hunting the puck and we know we have the capability with our speed to get behind their D and that’s what we did (tonight),” he added. New Jersey could have had Rantanen at the 2015 NHL Draft aka the Connor McDavid Draft, but chose Pavel Zacha (51 points in 146 career NHL games) sixth overall instead; Rantanen had 55 assists last season, which was 16th in the entire league and his 84 points was also 16th in the NHL.

All the preseason talk of contenders in the West has included San Jose, Vegas, Nashville, Winnipeg — and maybe they’ve earned that respect. But don’t be surprised if Colorado has something to say about how the west was won because as it stands today, the line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is the ‘Best of the West’ and Rantanen is just scratching the surface of how good he can truly be, which is a scary thought for the other 14 teams in the Western Conference.