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Avalanche pick Rantanen eager for Finland to host

by Mike G. Morreale /

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Finland forward Mikko Rantanen, a first-round pick by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2015 NHL Draft, is looking forward to having his country serve as host for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

It will mark the first time since 2004 the tournament will be held in Finland.

The 6-foot-4, 211-pound right wing is confident the Finns will do better than the seventh-place they finished at the 2015 WJC in Montreal and Toronto. Rantanen led Finland with four goals in five games as one of their youngest skaters.

In Helsinki, site of the 2016 WJC from Dec. 26, 2015, through Jan. 5, 2016, he's determined to be one of the leaders on and off the ice. He showcased a bit of that swagger and ability when he had three assists in a 10-3 exhibition victory against the United States blue team during the national junior evaluation camp at Lake Placid Olympic Center's 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.

The camp, which includes practices and games against Sweden, runs through Saturday.

"It's our first camp as a team and there are some guys who know each other and some guys who don't, so we're just trying to get to know each other and that's the big thing," Rantanen said. "We're trying to get used to the game tempo and create team spirit.

"I think we have a good team, and there are some things we can work on, but I think we have potential to be one of the best teams in this generation, so we feel good."

Rantanen, selected No. 10 by the Avalanche, seemed to form good chemistry on a line with left wing Sebastian Aho (Calgary Flames) and Julius Nattinen (Anaheim Ducks). Aho had two goals and one assist; Nattinen had two goals.

The top two players for the United States were Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets) and Paul Bittner (Columbus Blue Jackets). Connor, a late cut from last year's team, had two assists, and Bittner had two goals.

"I think being kind of a second-year guy at this camp, I want to use that experience," Connor said. "I learned a lot last year. You just have to try and go out there and impose your will on the other team and try to be a little more of a leader."

U.S. coach Ron Wilson, who said he expects to make several cuts by Tuesday afternoon, liked what he saw from Connor.

"Kyle hadn't been as noticeable as he was in that game [on Monday]," Wilson said. "I thought he was our best forward against the Finns, so he's earned a chance to stay."


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