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Rantanen Set To Return To Avs Lineup

The reigning AHL rookie of the year practiced with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikhail Grigorenko

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

The Mikko Rantanen era in the NHL is almost here.

The Colorado Avalanche recalled its 2015 first-round draft pick on Monday afternoon and the expectation from the club seems to be that he'll be in uniform for Friday's contest against the Winnipeg Jets and beyond.

"It's nice to have him back," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar after Tuesday's practice. "He had a great season last season. Had a good rookie camp before he got hurt."

Rantanen seemed pegged to begin the year with the Avs, but an ankle injury he suffered during the Rookie Showcase against the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 17 set that timing back. He missed all of the club's training camp and preseason before returning to a full team practice on Oct. 8.

Since he missed so much time on the ice and in the video room learning the new system, Rantanen was sent to the San Antonio Rampage to begin the year in order to get up to speed.

"You have to work on those little things when you're five weeks out without playing," Rantanen said of his focus during his four-game stint with the Rampage. "Just getting back to game shape and trying to feel good.

"[The Rampage] play the same system as they play here. So it's good to get back to the speed and our game style is quick. We have to be quick. It's good."

Video: Rantanen returns to Colorado after AHL stint

Bednar said Rantanen will benefit from starting the year in the AHL and having three NHL practices before the club's next contest.

"He played some games, had a week of practice, played a couple more games and now is back up," the Avs coach said. "So he has three more days of practice with us to get ready for his first one with us this year."

Friday's contest won't be Rantanen's first in the league, as he played nine games in two separate stints with the Avalanche last season. The Finland native was on the club's opening-night roster in 2015-16 and was later called up for three contests in March after a dominating campaign in San Antonio.

He led the Rampage in all three scoring categories with 24 goals, 36 assists and 60 points, was a member of the league's Second All-Star and All-Rookie teams and shared the AHL's outstanding rookie award.

That's not a bad haul for his first-ever campaign in North America.

"It's a lot different then what we play in Europe, like what I'm used to. It helped me a lot," Rantanen said of playing most of last season in San Antonio. "This year is a lot easier to come here and play. You know what to expect, so it's going to be easier."

Video: Coach Jared Bednar talks about Mikko Rantanen

Rantanen largely played a bottom-six role in his games with Colorado last season, averaging 8:57 of ice time.

It appears this time he'll be in situations that better fit his skill set, as he played wing on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikhail Grigorenko at Tuesday's practice at Family Sports Center.

"You play with guys like MacKinnon and Grigorenko, it's a lot different," Rantanen said. "They want offense, and I'm ready for it. Now I just have to show it."

The left-handed Finn is a right wing by trade but ended up playing most of last year at center with the Rampage. He could likely play any of the forward positions with the Avs in the future, but for the time being Bednar wants to ease him into his first full season at the top tier of the sport.

"Mikko is another guy that can play probably center or wing as well," Bednar said. "For him, just breaking into the league right now, his best chance is probably on the wing to start out."

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