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Rantanen Reaches 20-Goal Mark In Finale

The rookie led the team in goalscoring

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Just like that, the 2016-17 season is over for the Colorado Avalanche.

It was a campaign of trials and tribulations, of hard work and heartache. Things just didn't seem to go the way the team had hoped. 

"This was not the year we all wanted. It was frustrating pretty much from mid-December on--every day coming to the rink being where were at," Matt Duchene said following Sunday's 3-2 loss at the St. Louis Blues. "No one on the team gave up ever. We played our hearts out every single night, but everybody does that in this league. The whole league works hard. They play hard. Guys are in good shape. They can skate. They can play. It's not just enough to have that, so that's why we're at where we're at.

"Goals were hard to come by for everyone this year. The puck would not go in the net. Very frustrating year. I know I definitely got a fire lit under me going forward here, and I think a lot of other guys will [have it] too."

Video: Matt Duchene recaps the season

The year left a sour taste in the mouths of the players and certainly the fans, and now that it is done, the process of building and planning for the next one can begin.

Yet, the season concluded on a high note for Avs forward Mikko Rantanen, who was largely a bright spot for the entire campaign. The 20-year-old rookie recorded a marker in Sunday's tilt, bringing his total to a team-leading 20 for the year.

He became the first rookie to reach the 20-goal plateau since Nathan MacKinnon (24) did it during the 2013-14 campaign. Only five other players--Marek Svatos (32), Paul Stastny (28), Duchene (24) and Gabriel Landeskog and Wojtek Wolski (22)--have done better in their first years donning the burgundy and blue.

With 20 goals as the his final total, Rantanen tied Chris Drury's freshman effort from 1998-99.

Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar's final postgame of the season

"I think it's a great personal accomplishment for him. He's a young guy, a rookie coming into the league, and to lead our team in goals and get 20 after missing some games at the start of the year and here late in the year just recently [is impressive]," said head coach Jared Bednar. "I think he's starting to do a lot of good things. We've seen his offensive production take off in the second half of the year. Some of those young guys and what they've been able to do for us down the stretch, and for him all year… I think that's encouraging for our team and for our club and for those guys moving forward because expectations will grow next year." 

A native of Nousiainen, Finland, Rantanen had a bit of a slow start after missing the entirety of training camp and the preseason after suffering an ankle injury during the inaugural Rookie Showcase. It took him his first eight games of the year to find his initial tally, but he became an important piece of Colorado's offense afterward.

Rantanen closed out the year with four goals in his final five games, bringing his total to 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists)--an effort that puts him 11th among Avalanche rookies.

Video: COL@STL: Rantanen uses quick hands to net second goal 

The next step for some of the Avs might be joining their respective national teams for a run in the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris, France, and Cologne, Germany, in May. 

For others, it's time to take a break from the game, rest, heal and decompress.

Then preparations for next year will start. 

"It's time for them to get away from the game and get refreshed, and then start their training and get ready for next year," Bednar said in his final postgame press conference.

 

MACKINNON MILESTONE

Although he's only been in the NHL for four years now, Nathan MacKinnon has already accomplished quite a bit.

This season alone, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, native has hit three special milestones.

On Nov. 11, the 21-year-old forward registered his 100th assist in a 3-2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets. On March 23, he picked up his 200th point in a 7-4 loss at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

MacKinnon added to that growing list of achievements on Sunday in the team's final game of the year, when he took the ice for his 300th professional contest. He sits 10th in Avalanche history in games played among active players and 49th overall in the franchise record book.

MacKinnon also picked up an assist in the match, upping his team-leading point total to 53 (16 goals, 37 assists)--the second-best total of his young career.

 

LINEUP CHANGES

The Avalanche sent down a handful of players on Sunday, hours before the start of the final game of the season at the St. Louis Blues. 

Forward Rocco Grimaldi and defensemen Anton Lindholm and Duncan Siemens were all returned to the San Antonio Rampage, Colorado's American Hockey League affiliate, ahead of the club's final stretch of the season.

Grimaldi registered his first assist in an Avs sweater when he helped Tyson Jost bury his own first-ever NHL goal on Thursday versus the Minnesota Wild. Grimaldi skated in four games with the Avalanche this season, recording the one assist and 11 shots. 

Lindholm played in 12 contests during his first and only recall to Colorado, capping off his first campaign in North America with some outings at the highest level of the sport. He finished his time with seven shots and a minus-8 rating.

Siemens skated in three matches with the Avs at the end of this year, bringing his career total to four games. He finished his second NHL stretch with two shots, 10 hits and a minus-2 rating while playing a quiet but solid defensive game.

The Avalanche had plenty of players left to dress in the season finale and inserted blueliners Cody Goloubef and Patrick Wiercioch and forward Mikhail Grigorenko into the lineup.

Wiercioch had been a healthy scratch for the club's previous 15 games. Goloubef had been out for the last two contests. Grigorenko missed Saturday's loss at the Stars as an uninjured replacement.

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