DALLAS--Mikko Rantanen is signed long term, and his Colorado Avalanche teammates are excited to have their friendly Finn back in the fold.
Rantanen inked a six-year contract on Saturday during the third period of the Avs' preseason finale at the Dallas Stars, with reports starting to surface about the agreement just as the players took the ice for the opening faceoff. The players learned of the news midway through the game.
"We are really excited to get it over with," said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog of Rantanen, who is player that seems to always have a smile on his face no matter the day. "Obviously we wish it could have been done a little bit sooner, but we are excited that we are going to have him for the first game hopefully."
For Nathan MacKinnon, he gets his long-time linemate back as the two have skated together on the same unit for the majority of the time since Rantanen entered the league three years ago.
"It took a while, but we are excited that it finally got done," MacKinnon said to ColoradoAvalanche.com. "Hopefully we see him in a couple days."
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While Rantanen didn't participate in any of the Avs' pre-season activities, he has continued his training back in Europe. He had been practicing with SC Bern of the Swiss pro league and recently returned to his native Finland.
When Rantanen arrives in Denver isn't known just yet, but it is expected that he'll play on Thursday when Colorado opens the regular season at home against the Calgary Flames should his immigration get settled.
"We will brush him up with a couple meetings if he gets in on time. I know he has been skating, working hard. He always comes to camp in really good shape, and I am sure that will be no different this year," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar following the preseason game at the Stars. "Our guys will be excited to have him back--he is a huge piece to our team."
Rantanen is coming off a career season in which he posted personal bests of 31 goals, 56 assists and 87 points. He surpassed the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career and joined Chris Drury as the only players in Avs history (since 1995) to score 20-plus goals in each of his first three NHL seasons.
The Nousiainen, Finland, native was also named to the NHL All-Star Game last season, joining MacKinnon and Landeskog. The three players combined for 106 goals and 261 points during the year, with the trio spending much of last season on the same line together.
The three Avalanche skaters finished 1-2-3 in scoring in 2018-19, with Rantanen coming in second behind MacKinnon's 99 points.
"Mikko has established himself as one of the premier young wingers in the NHL and is a big part of our core group," said Avalanche executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic. "We look forward to having him back with the team as we get ready to start the season."
Selected at No. 10 overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, Rantanen has 209 points (80 goals, 129 assists) in 239 career regular-season contests. He's also a point-per-game player in the postseason with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 18 Stanley Cup Playoff outings.
"He has made leaps and bounds since his rookie year," MacKinnon said. "It has been amazing to watch him develop and he is one of the best wingers in the NHL, so we are lucky to have him on our team."
Once Rantanen arrives in Denver, Bednar has some options of where he could slot the forward in the lineup. It will most likely be in a top-six role alongside Landeskog and MacKinnon, but he could mix up his combinations a bit given the depth that Colorado acquired in the offseason.
With Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri now in the fold as well, the addition of Rantanen gives Bednar a multitude of possibilities that he can use for opening night and throughout the 82-game campaign.
"To get a guy, a player of Mikko's caliber back just before the start of regular season I think it is going to be a real big boost to our team," said Bednar. "We will slot everyone in our roster exactly where they are supposed to be too. I mean exceptional talent; we are looking forward to getting him back on the ice."