Player Development Of Euro Forwards: Mikko Rantanen

NHL player development seems to always result in more questions than answers. How likely is it for a top pick to pan out? What makes a player a “steal”? Last Word On Hockey will be starting a new series on how to properly develop prospects from all different spots throughout the draft. With forwards drafted out of North American hockey leagues between 2005 and 2015, in the first round, covered, let’s shift to forwards drafted out of Europe. 

NHL Player Development Of Top-Ten Picks

In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 10 players selected within the top-ten out of Europe. Within that grouping, there were five players who made their NHL impacts (15+ games in a single season) in their DY+2 season, or, in other words, after one year of development following their selection in the draft. In previous pieces, there was mention of just four, but a mistake was made. Those players looked at were Nicklas Backstrom, William Nylander, Mika Zibanejad, and Magnus Paajarvi. The missing player was Mikko Rantanen, who will be the focus of this piece. 

In these pieces, Last Word will be using Even-Strength Offence Goals Above Replacement (EVO), Even-Strength Defence Goals Above Replacement (EVD), Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Goals Above Replacement (GAR). All those analytics come from Evolving-Hockey (paid subscription required). 

NHL Player Development Of Mikko Rantanen

Mikko Rantanen, drafted 10th overall in the 2015 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche, came out of the TPS organization in Finland. In his DY-1 season, he would play primarily in the top men’s league, Liiga. There, he scored five goals and four assists for nine points in 37 games, for 0.243 points per game. That ranked eighth amongst those aforementioned 10 forwards in DY-1 production. The following season, Rantanen would spend the entire season at the Liiga level. He scored nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points in 56 games, for 0.5 points per game. That ranked sixth out of the same 10 forwards in DY production. 

Upon being drafted, Rantanen would come to North America to play professionally. Joining the Avalanche’s AHL affiliates, the San Antonio Rampage. There, he scored 24 goals and 36 assists for 60 points in 52 games, for 1.154 points per game. That ranked second amongst the eight forwards still outside the NHL in DY+1 production. He was ranked behind just Michael Frolik, who played in the QMJHL in his DY+1 season. 

How Mikko Rantanen Was Used

Making the jump to the NHL after a very successful rookie AHL season, Mikko Rantanen would barely ever look back. Instead, he would see just a four-game stint at the AHL level, recording two assists. The rest of his season would be spent with the big club, where he played 75 games and averaged 18:03 time on ice per game. With the incredibly large role for a rookie, Rantanen would impress with 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points. Analytically, he was fairly impressive. His EVO (7.8) was extremely impressive, but his biggest weak point was on defence. His EVD (-6.5) was pretty terrible. Ultimately, that dragged his WAR (0.7) and GAR (3.9) down fairly substantially, despite the rock-solid EVO. 

In his second season, Mikko Rantanen would only see the NHL. Playing in 81 games, he averaged a big role once again, at 18:58 per game. With another big role, he would score 29 goals and 55 assists for 84 points, a massive season for the young Rantanen. Analytically, his EVO (7.1) was pretty much the same, but his EVD (-0.5) was incredibly improved upon. That led to his WAR (2.9) and GAR (14.8) to jump exponentially higher than his rookie year totals. 

Rantanen Maintains Remarkable Performances Into Year Three

Entering his third season, expectations were far higher. Playing 74 NHL games, he would average a ridiculous role of 20:51 per game. Playing over 20 minutes a game led his offence to maintain its high-level of production. This time, he would score 31 goals and 56 assists for 87 points, improving on the year prior. Analytically, his EVO (6.1) would shockingly drop, but his EVD (0.0) would reach replacement-level. Despite the continued improvement to his defensive impacts, his WAR (2.0) and GAR (10.5) dropped slightly from the year prior. 

Since that third season in 2018-19, Mikko Rantanen has remained with the Avalanche. In the seasons since, he has recorded 130 goals and 151 assists for 281 points in 236 games, and counting. Rantanen also won a Cup in that time, as the Avalanche beat the back-to-back defending Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning, in the 2022 Cup Finals. This season, Rantanen has scored 45 goals and 37 assists for 82 points in 67 games. That guarantees that he will get his fifth point-per-game season in the seven years since becoming an NHL regular. Also, this season, he is currently on pace for his first 100-point campaign of his career. It’s safe to say that Mikko Rantanen’s NHL player development went perfectly for both parties. 

Raw stats from Elite Prospects and Hockey-Reference

Main Photo: Brian Bradshaw Sevald-USA TODAY Sports