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Mikko Rantanen A Historic AHL All-Star

by Dan Marrazza / Colorado Avalanche

There are a lot of things 19-year-olds can do.

Vote? Sure. Drive a car, get a tattoo? If they want. Legally purchase certain kinds of beverages? Well, not in the United States. But in Canada they can.

One thing 19-year-olds cannot do is play in the American Hockey League, which normally requires teenage players to return to their junior or college team if they’re not ready for the NHL.

Mikko Rantanen, the Colorado Avalanche’s first-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, is not a normal 19-year-old.

Not only is Rantanen—who only turned 19 in October—dominating the AHL as a teenager, he also represented the San Antonio Rampage in the league’s All-Star festivities this past weekend in Syracuse, New York. By doing so, Rantanen was not only the youngest AHL All-Star this year, but also the second-youngest All-Star in the 80-year-old league’s modern history.

“I didn’t even know that, actually,” Rantanen told Avalanche.com on Monday, unaware of how historic his All-Star appearance was.

The reason Rantanen is eligible to skate in the AHL as a teenager this season is because after playing for TPS Turku in Finland’s top professional league the past three years, he had neither a junior nor college team to return to after skating in six games with the Avalanche to start the season.

“I didn’t know that at all,” Rantanen added. “That makes this a big thing. I guess all I can do is enjoy every minute of it.”

Part of the reason for Rantanen’s early success is his maturity, which if it doesn’t show up on his birth certificate is readily apparent in his physique. A strapping 6-foot-4 and a sturdy 215 pounds, Rantanen has easily transitioned to North American hockey because of his ability to ‘boyhandle’ his veteran opponents.

‘Boyhandle,’ of course, being what manhandling is called when a 19-year-old does it to grown men.

“I wasn’t that big when I was 14-15,” Rantanen said. “I was smaller. The last couple years, I’ve gained a little weight. Some height, too.

“My mom made all my food the past several years, so I have to thank Mom and Dad for making good food to get me big.”

To say a player is a man against boys is a common expression. Referring to him as a boy against men, not so much. Especially when the boy is kicking the men’s butts.

This is exactly what Rantanen’s rookie AHL season has been: a boy, albeit a very big boy, taking older men to task.

“This style, it makes it hard,” said Rantanen’s fellow Finn and AHL All-Star Esa Lindell, a defenseman for the Texas Stars who’ll face his countryman 13 times this season. “He’s a strong, big player.

“Strong, big players like him are hard (to play against).”

If Rantanen is hard to play against now, it’s difficult to imagine the headaches he’ll give opposing defensemen when he’s fully grown. If he follows the general pattern of how much weight most players put on between draft day and the prime of their NHL careers, Rantanen could eventually reach the 230-240 pound range.

“Being big is good for battling,” Rantanen said. “The d-men here are usually big and strong. You have to be good in corners against them.”

It’s this size, packaged with the hands of a sniper, that has allowed him to emerge as the Rampage’s most lethal scoring option. Rantanen has racked up 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in his first 27 games with San Antonio, placing him among the entire league’s leaders in points scored per 60 minutes.

Rantanen could’ve tallied even more if he hadn’t left San Antonio for a full month to captain Finland to a gold medal at the 2016 World Junior Championship.

“World Juniors, incredible experience,” Rantanen said. “To be in front of home country…. I had a little tough start to the tournament, trying to find some rhythm. Big rink, so that’s tough. I do better on the small rink like in North America. Near the middle and as we got into the playoffs, I started to feel more comfortable.”

Rantanen getting fully adjusted to the rink couldn’t have come at a better time for Finland. In the gold medal game against Russia, he played a key role in his team’s victory by scoring a clutch, late third-period goal in his country’s eventual overtime win.

Rantanen finished the World Juniors with five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games.

He finished his recent All-Star performance with a goal as well, which he scored in silky-smooth fashion. Although the defenseman didn’t do much to impede his progress, Rantanen literally used one hand to lift a backhander over Central Division goalie Eric Comrie while on a breakaway.

With these attributes, Rantanen seems to have it all, with maybe the exception of a good nickname.

“Hot Wheels,” Rantanen said. “In Finland, a few guys called me Hot Wheels. I was pretty young when I was playing with the men’s team, so they thought I still played with the Hot Wheels.”

Actually, it probably wouldn’t be that crazy if Rantanen still played with Hot Wheels.

After all, he’s still a kid.

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