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Rantanen practices with Avalanche, will play in opener against Flames

Forward agreed to six-year contract Saturday

by Rick Sadowski / Independent Correspondent

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Mikko Rantanen returned to practice with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, two days after agreeing to a six-year contract, and will play in the season opener against the Calgary Flames on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; ALT, SNW, NHL.TV).

"It feels great," said Rantanen, who was a restricted free agent. "I was waiting for this pretty much since training camp started with the negotiations. It's all business, but I'm really happy to be back. I was confident I would get it done before the season starts."

The 22-year-old forward was welcomed to the ice with stick taps from teammates and he skated in his usual spot on the top line with left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Nathan MacKinnon


[RELATED: Landeskog greets, makes sign for Rantanen in return to practice]


Last season, Rantanen set NHL career highs in goals (31), assists (56) and points (87) in 74 regular-season games and had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"I thought he was great," coach Jared Bednar said. "It's good to have the big moose back on the ice. I thought he was making plays, he had lots of jump. Obviously, he's got a little bit of adrenaline going, and hopefully he still has the same energy tomorrow and it leads into Thursday.

"There's excitement, you're definitely relieved that it's done and he can get here to start the season. You don't want those things to linger. We're certainly happy for Mikko, it's a well-earned contract. He's a big piece to our success, so we're excited as much as we are relieved. We love him as a person, we love him as a teammate, he's excited to be here long term. Everyone is excited to have him back. The energy was up today, no question."

Rantanen did not attend Colorado's training camp and missed all six of its preseason games, instead training with SC Bern in Switzerland during contract negotiations. He returned to his native Finland on Friday and said he got a telephone call at midnight Saturday from his agent, Mike Liut, informing him that an agreement had been reached. He left Finland on Sunday morning and arrived in Denver at 8:30 p.m. MT.

Video: Mikko Rantanen agrees to six-year deal with Avalanche

"I was expecting less energy today, but I felt surprisingly good," Rantanen said. "I felt good, I've been skating a lot. Team practices are a lot different than playing in a game, but I'll get in some good practices."

Rantanen said it was advantageous to be reunited with longtime linemates MacKinnon and Landeskog.

"We've played together for almost 200 games, so there's not much talk you have to do," he said. "You kind of know what to do even though we haven't seen each other for four or five months."

MacKinnon and Landeskog said they clicked right away.

"It [stinks] that it went this long, but he's back now," MacKinnon said. "He hasn't missed a step at all. He looks really good, so it's awesome to have him back."

Said Landeskog, "Obviously, we're very happy to have him back. It was very exciting to see him back on the ice. I wasn't really too worried about it. He looked unbelievable, he's fresh, well rested."

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