ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling players who just completed their rookie seasons with the organization. This installment takes a look at forward Mikko Rantanen.
Mikko Rantanen did as much as he could and lived up to what was expected of him as a rookie with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2016-17 season.
The No. 10 overall draft pick in 2015 finished second in goals (20) by a rookie in the Western Conference and tied for fifth overall among NHL freshman. He also recorded 18 assists during the campaign to give him a total of 38 points in 75 contests.
Rantanen made his NHL debut on Oct. 8, 2015 and became the first player in franchise history to wear No. 96 on his jersey. The forward played in nine games for the Avs during the 2015-16 campaign, keeping him rookie eligible for the following year.
The rest of his first season in North America was spent with the Avalanche's American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, where Rantanen put up an impressive 60 points (24 goals, 36 assists) in 52 contests to lead all league rookies in scoring. He also led the Rampage in goals, assists, points and plus/minus rating (plus-20). At 19 years old, he was the second-youngest participant to be selected to the AHL All-Star Game in the event's history and the first teenage skater to reach 60 points in a single AHL season.
The AHL awarded his performance by naming him co-Rookie of the Year with Frank Vatrano of the Providence Bruins.
The start of his 2016-17 season was a bit rocky as he suffered an ankle injury on Sept. 17 during the Rookie Showcase and couldn't play in any of the Avalanche's preseason games. He was reassigned to the Rampage to begin the year so he could become re-acclimated to speed of play and went on to register two assists during the four-game stint.
On Oct. 24, he was recalled to Colorado and made his true rookie season debut on Oct. 28 against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center.
It did not take long for Rantanen to start tallying points. During a home game versus the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 5, the Nousianinen, Finland, native registered an assist for his first NHL point.
On Nov. 11, the Avs faced the Jets once again in Denver, and Rantanen recorded his first NHL goal to give the team a 1-0 lead in the second period. Colorado went on to beat Winnipeg 3-2.
"It was probably a little bit more lucky than skill, but it's good to get the first goal and a big two points," he said after the game to ColoradoAvalanche.com. "I've had a lot of chances in the games that I've played this season, it's good to get the first one."
Video: WPG@COL: Rantanen roofs laser PPG for first NHL goal
While Rantanen might have played off his milestone like it was no big deal, Avs head coach Jared Bednar disagreed.
"I think seeing him more and more, he's a pass-first guy, but he has a great shot," Bednar said after the game. "He was looking around for a pass, looking around for a pass and then takes a step and [makes a] great shot from the short side."
His scoring on the season was highlighted by a three-goal game on Feb. 7 in a 4-0 shutout win on home ice against the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's a dream come true," said Rantanen in a postgame interview about his first career NHL hat trick. "You watch other guys when you are younger, watch guys score hat tricks and the crowd is going wild, so it's a dream come true. The most important thing was the two points [for a win]."
Rantanen completed the hat trick on a 5-on-3 power play at 6:01 of the third period. He was the third Avalanche rookie to record a hat trick, joining Marek Svatos (two in 2005-06) and Radim Vrbata (one in 2001-02).
Video: MTL@COL: Rantanen nets PPG for first NHL hat trick
Rantanen used his 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame very effectively in the offensive zone for the remainder of the season by gathering a total of 133 shots on goal. He was an important part of the Avs lineup as a power forward who was often paired with the likes of Sven Andrighetto, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon.
"There's nothing but great things coming for him in his career," Duchene said of Rantanen in a May interview during the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris, France. "Those great things could come as soon as next season. He's so big and strong. He's got great hands, great speed and great vision. I think as he gets older he'll learn to use his size even better than he does already. He's just a horse of a kid already. He's going to be a great player for a long time."
The right wing had a strong end to his season by scoring 20 of his 38 points in his final 35 games.
After the NHL campaign concluded for the Avalanche, Rantanen went on to skate for his home country at the World Championship, where he scored four goals and six assists in 10 games for Team Finland.
He's seen plenty of time with the Finnish national team in recent years, which included captaining the gold-medal winning squad at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Rantanen registered two goals and three assists in that tournament, with one of his tallies coming in the pivotal final against Russia to help Finland claim the title. He has also participated in the 2016 World Championship, where he had one assist in five games en route to earning a silver medal, and was a member of Finland's squad at the 2015 World Juniors.
After such a successful first full year in the NHL, an incredible showing on the international stage and putting in the effort in offseason training, Rantanen will look to make an even larger impression for the Avs in 2017-18.
"I'll try to be a big piece for the team and try to help the team even more," he said near the end of last season. "But next year is next year. Of course, I want to take on a bigger role on next year's team and be an even better player."