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Whirlwind season for Avalanche prospect Rantanen

First-rounder starring in AHL, eyeing rapid return to Colorado

by Joe Yerdon @JoeYerdon / NHL.com Correspondent

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's been a whirlwind season for recent first-round pick Mikko Rantanen. 

Rantanen was taken 10th by the Colorado Avalanche at the 2015 NHL Draft and made the Avalanche roster out of training camp. After he played in Finland last season, making the jump to the NHL was eye-opening. 

"It's a big thing the first time I see NHL players; how they practice and how they do the things always, like when we're young, and you can learn from that," Rantanen said. "And Patrick [Roy] is a good coach. He knows what he's doing and he tries to help the young guys and I'm just trying to play well now so I can, in the future, help Colorado win." 

Rantanen played six games with the Avalanche before he was sent to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. A demotion can be tough on young players, but it gave Rantanen an opportunity. 

"They didn't say, like, you have to work (on) this, but they did say they wanted me to play more," Rantanen said. "I wasn't playing that much at the start of the season there. I was under 10 minutes [per game], so that's why they wanted me to play like 18-20 minutes per night." 

That playing time has translated into Rantanen becoming an AHL all-star for the first time. He scored 13 goals and 32 points in 29 games with the Rampage and was part of the Western Conference team at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday that defeated the Eastern Conference 19-14. 

After Rantanen played for TPS Turku in Finland's SM-liiga last season, the adjustment to playing in North America has been a good challenge. 

"Being in Finland, family is close and friends are close, but it's different," Rantanen said. "I have liked it and I have good teammates both in Colorado and San Antonio too. I'm not lonely, I have friends there, so it's easier to leave here and it's credit to my teammates for helping out when I came here. Of course, this is a big honor to be here in Syracuse to play in the AHL All-Star Game." 

Rantanen hasn't only played in Denver and San Antonio this season. He was a member of the Finland team that won gold at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki in January. 

"It was a good experience, of course," Rantanen said. "It was a big honor to play with the Finnish jersey again and in front of the home audience. It was a very good tournament for us and it ended pretty well too. I think every guy will remember it all their lives." 

Finland has won gold at the World Junior Championship two of the past three years and has established itself as one of the best hockey countries in the world. 

"We don't have the most skill of all the teams, but we always work hard," Rantanen said. "We had the most work ethic in the tournament. That's the biggest strength of Finland. If we want to win something, like they did in 2014, they win it with the team spirit and that stuff; same thing this year. It's a great thing for Finland." 

Rantanen has enjoyed success internationally and in the AHL, but the goal is to get back to the NHL and stay there. Even though he's 19 years old, he has his eyes set on helping the Avalanche sooner than later. 

"I like to follow how they play and how they're doing," Rantanen said of the Avalanche. "It's nice to see now they're in [a playoff position], but there's still [30] games left. It's good to see. 

"It has been a great experience. The season has gone pretty well, so I'm happy, I'm healthy, so it's nice to play (my) first year here and first year as a pro in America."

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