There’s a lot going on for the Colorado Avalanche this season. Nazem Kadri landed at his first All-Star Game at age 31. Cale Makar is making another legitimate run for his first Norris Trophy after finishing second last season. Even longtime captain Gabriel Landeskog is likely having his most productive offensive campaign in his 11th season.
But flying under the radar has been Mikko Rantanen, who is quietly and consistently putting up (another) great season. Barring injury, the 25-year-old winger is going to have a career year in all offensive categories. He’s not the face of the franchise, but Rantanen has emerged as Colorado’s steadiest, most reliable star.
Slow Start, But Steady Ever Since
Rantanen’s career didn’t get off to the best start. After getting selected with the 10th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, he played just nine games in the 2015-16 season. He scored zero points in those nine games. He scored a respectable 20 goals across 75 games the following season, and rocketed onto everyone’s radar with 29 goals and 84 points in 2017-18.
It’s been nothing but improvement since that first full season. Over the past three and a half seasons, Rantanen has hit at least 30 goals twice and has piled up 104 goals. Comparatively, that’s just one goal away from MacKinnon’s 105 over the same period — and MacKinnon was a Hart Trophy finalist two of those seasons.
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Outside of a broken collarbone in 2020 that cost him a few weeks, Rantanen has stayed pretty healthy. When he’s in the lineup, he’s been a contributor night in and night out. There’s been only two instances this season where he went back-to-back games without scoring a point, and only four instances over the last two seasons. Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Rantanen has racked up 133 goals and 333 points in 291 games. His longest streak without a point during that span is just five games.
Should’ve Been An All-Star
While a lot of people — including Nathan MacKinnon — were upset that Kadri had to rely on the fan vote to get to the All-Star Game, the biggest snub may have been Rantanen. Kadri deserved to be selected, but Rantanen has a pretty good case, too.
Entering the All-Star break, Rantanen was in the top 10 in the NHL in goals (24) and points (54), and was in the top 20 in assists (30). Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl is the only other player that could make that claim. That’s pretty lofty company, since Draisaitl currently leads the NHL in scoring and has a Hart Trophy on his resume.
There are always going to be All-Star snubs, as there are only so many available slots for each division. The Avalanche already (rightfully) had three in MacKinnon, Kadri and Makar, so it was understandable why a fourth wasn’t selected. It’s not like the soft-spoken Rantanen is going to put up a fuss. He’s too busy deflecting praise and citing his teammates for his success. He was even uncomfortable wearing the baseball cap denoting his 2019 All-Star selection (from ‘Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen refuses to wear “All-Star” title — literally,’ The Denver Post, Feb. 5, 2019).
Delivering Through Adversity
Things might look like they’re rolling along for the Avalanche at first glance — they have the NHL’s best record and are the league’s top-scoring team. But it hasn’t been easy for Rantanen, no matter how easy he’s made it look. He has played with at least eight different line combinations, and has actually played alongside Landeskog and Kadri in more games than he’s played with his usual partners Landeskog and MacKinnon.
The high-powered line of MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen has led Colorado for the past few seasons, and Rantanen has been every bit the contributor as his higher profile linemates. The Avalanche have needed him this season. Landeskog got off to a shaky start with a couple of minor injuries and a suspension, and MacKinnon has missed multiple games three different times this season. Only Makar and Samuel Girard have logged more ice time than Rantanen, whose 23 goals lead the team.
MacKinnon hasn’t struggled to contribute — his 34 assists are second on the team only to Kadri’s 42 — but the goals aren’t coming for him like they have in the past. He has only nine goals this season, but a number of other Avs have picked up the slack. No one would be surprised if MacKinnon jumps up the goal scoring in the second half of the season, and that would mean trouble for the rest of the NHL, but Rantanen has turned into the team’s best goal scorer.
Rantanen is going to be a fixture in Denver for a while, as he’s contracted through 2024-25. He’s one goal in 2017-18 away from having as many 30-goal seasons as MacKinnon, and Rantanen’s 153 career goals are just 14 away from tying him with Alex Tanguay for 10th on the team’s all-time list. If Rantanen passes Tanguay in the second half of the season, it would give him the first 40-goal campaign of his career. That would definitely put the rest of the NHL on notice — and the sky might be the limit from there.