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Rantanen sets goal of sticking in NHL next season

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mikko Rantanen has spent the past two seasons excelling in Liiga, Finland's top professional League. Now he could be ready to conquer a higher level.

The 6-foot-4, 211-pound right wing with TPS is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters for the 2015 NHL Draft and likely will be a top-10 pick when the draft starts Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports). Both of NHL.com's mock drafts have Rantanen going at No. 7 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I know the NHL is a tough League," Rantanen said. "The best players play in the NHL. My goal is to train this summer so hard that I will be ready to find a place in an NHL lineup. I know it's hard but I will do everything I can to be ready."

This season, Rantanen led all under-20 players in Liiga and was second on TPS with 28 points in 56 games, and was an alternate captain. He also excelled against his peers, with a team-high four goals for Finland at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb compared Rantanen's physical and mental makeup to Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov, who was the second pick of the 2013 draft and made the jump from Finland to the NHL for the 2013-14 season.

"It's his size and then he plays a very mature game," Stubb said of Rantanen. "He's already played two years [in Liiga]. ... He's mature. And I think he's like, not the same style of play as Barkov but he's the same kind of person, mature enough to take the step. He's a very good person. Both feet steady on the ground."

It's coincidental that Stubb compared Rantanen to Barkov; Rantanen said he met with the Panthers at the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month and has a second meeting with them scheduled for Friday morning. The Panthers have the 11th pick in the first round.

"It has been good," Rantanen said. "I think they are interested. It's nice to see. Tomorrow will show."

Rantanen said he'll meet with four teams in Florida prior to the start of the draft, also mentioning the San Jose Sharks.

Rantanen is eligible to be drafted in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft later this month, but playing junior hockey isn't really an option if he's not in the NHL. Being drafted on a team outside the CHL means the 18-year-old is eligible to play in the American Hockey League next season.

"If it's not NHL yet, I have to think what's best for me and my development," he said. "Is it Finland or AHL? I'll have to think about that."

Until then, he's waiting like everyone else to see where he ends up.

"I think it's pretty good that after No. 1 and 2 you don't know who's going where," Rantanen said. "It's more exciting. I don't know [what will happen]. Just have to enjoy it and be excited."

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