Mikko Rantanen: San Antonio Might Be the Best Option


Mikko Rantanen is one of four Colorado Avalanche players who have yet to record a point, while having played more games than the other three. A stint in the AHL may make things easier.

Mikko Rantanen, the Colorado Avalanche’s 2015 first-round pick from Finland, had a fairly rough start. Little ice time in the best league of the world, while getting used to the North American way of life and style of hockey — that can quickly get too much for an 18-year-old. Is that the right way to handle your top prospect or would the AHL be a better option?

It’s a tough decision but one that will inevitably have to be talked about soon. Five games into the season, Rantanen has averaged only 12.2 shifts per game with an average ice time of 8:54, according to NHL.com. Furthermore, his numbers have been absolutely terrible. The problem, however, may not even be Rantanen himself.

Through the first few games of the season, Rantanen played almost exclusively on a line with Carl Soderberg and Borna Rendulic. Unfortunately, Rendulic isn’t necessarily NHL caliber (yet?) and both Soderberg and Rantanen have their defensive issues. That resulted in the trio being stuck in their defensive zone for 90 percent of their ice time. According to war-on-ice.com, the three currently have an average Corsi-for percentage of 28.09 — ouch.

Instead, it may be a good idea to put Rantanen on a line with top players, which is exactly what coach Patrick Roy must have thought. In Game 4 of the season, against the Anaheim Ducks, Rantanen spent almost the entire game on a line with Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla. Top players for sure, but especially Duchene was off to a slow start as well. The next game, Roy gave that line constellation some more time. So far, it hasn’t looked terrible, but Rantanen has yet to record his first NHL point — which is ultimately all that matters for a scoring forward.

So, what’s the issue? That question is not an easy one to answer. Of course Rantanen might just not be ready yet, but he’s really earned his roster spot and other things are probably more important. When you move halfway across the world to play hockey as an 18-year-old, it obviously isn’t easy, and the fact that you’re playing in the best league in the world rather intensifies the pressure. You’re away from your family and friends, in a totally different world, playing a new style of hockey, constantly being under pressure from fans and media. All that takes time to get used to and it may be easier to do in a lower league.

In Colorado, Rantanen plays an average of 8:54 per game. He’s not exactly in an important role right now and he doesn’t get any power play time. Sheltered minutes can work. But generally, you get better the more you play. If you only get a few minutes a night to try what you learned in practice and to prove yourself, the pressure is much higher than when you get 15 minutes a game. Then again, people obviously have higher expectations for players that play a lot, but producing in the NHL isn’t that easy. In the AHL, Rantanen could play a bigger role on the top six, under far less pressure.

So, what does Roy have to consider and when would be the right time to send Rantanen down? What are negatives of a demotion?

Obviously, five games are a very small sample size, especially considering that Rantanen, Soderberg, Rendulic might have been a bad combination. Rantanen should get at least another five games to show why he should stay, perhaps on a line with Duchene and Iginla or even with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. The way it is right now, Roy can be sure that Landeskog and MacKinnon will produce — the only question would be if Rantanen would join in or not. If he doesn’t have improved numbers after a total of 10 games, it may be the right time for a demotion.

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Furthermore, Roy will have to think about who else can play on the wing in the NHL. Colorado isn’t exactly famous for forward depth. Luckily, the top line in San Antonio has two wingers who would deserve to be called up. Both Dennis Everberg and Andre Agozzino — who are forming the Rampage’s first line with Ben Street — had a great start into the season. Everberg had five points in three games, Agozzino sits at seven. Everberg could play on the third line with Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, Agozzino could even join Duchene and Iginla on the second line.

However, being demoted always sucks, no matter if you are a rookie or a veteran. When you think you’re good enough for the big leagues, you don’t produce and start having doubts and eventually the coach demotes you to the AHL. Some players can deal with that, others have bigger problems with the mental aspect. Nobody knows how Rantanen would be react and how that would impact his game.

Ultimately, there have been too many prospects that were rushed into the league and have struggled ever since. Just look at Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov. That doesn’t mean they’ll never become the stars they’re supposed to be, but it definitely makes the start much harder.

For Mikko Rantanen, the San Antonio Rampage would be a great opportunity. He could fill a big role on a scoring line, while getting time on the power play as one of the team’s most talented players. It wouldn’t be a demotion, but rather a better place to develop.

What do you think the Avs should do with Mikko Rantanen? Let us know in the comments!

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