Over the past seven seasons, Colorado Avalanche fans have grown accustomed to seeing high first-round selections experience instant playing time in the NHL. Duchene, O'Reilly, Landeskog, and MacKinnon all made the big squad out of their first camp and never spent another minute back in juniors or in a development league. With that kind of track record, it's easy to be fooled into thinking it's normal for 18-year olds to be impact players the second they step on NHL ice -- but it's far from typical.
Mikko Rantanen laced 'em up for just nine games last season for the Avalanche, didn't play particularly well -- and you know what? That was perfectly fine. It was an eye-opener for a franchise so used to plug-and-play draft picks and all parties will be better off in the long run. Having to develop young players is not an organizational failure.
MHH Survey Grade: 71.0%
Only five Top-10 draft picks from the 2015 draft played NHL games last season, and only three played more than Rantanen's nine games. Those players were top defenseman Noah Hanifin, No. 2 overall selection Jack Eichel, and perhaps the next truly great player in the league, No. 1 overall Connor McDavid. Being sent down to the AHL San Antonio Rampage, scoring 60 points in 52 games (24 goals), being named co-recipient of the league's rookie-of-the-year award, and winning gold as captain of the Finnish World Junior team is far from disappointing.
It's just an incremental progress we haven't seen in a while.
Again, Rantanen's play in nine NHL games wasn't good. Averaging just 8:57 per game, he was on the ice for seven goals against and was Minus-9.9 in shot differential 5-on-5 relative to his teammates. Sounds a lot like an 18-year old rookie (in a small sample size) on a team really struggling to start the season. Eichel and Hanifin were negative possession players on bad Buffalo and Carolina teams with an entire season to adjust. Hard to blame a kid when he was on such a short leash. We quickly learned our expectations shouldn't be terribly high.
But there were flashes of brilliance too, especially during a 3-0 victory over Anaheim on October 16th, where Rantanen registered four shots-on-goal and showed fans the kind of player he might soon become. He also demonstrated a positional versatility not many would have predicted at the beginning of the season. Having played primarily right-wing leading up to the draft, Rantanen surprised a lot of observers by making an easy transition to left-wing and eventually filling in at center, where he started three games for Colorado in March. In 22 face-off attempts against NHL competition, he won 13 -- good for 54%.
MHH Staff Grade: C-
Mikko Rantanen is going to be a solid NHL hockey player, just not last season. The line he formed with Carl Soderberg and Borna Rendulic to start the year was plain terrible and was definitely a contributing factor to the team's poor start. Fortunately, the Avalanche cut bait early and avoided burning a year of Rantanen's entry-level contract. They also put him into a position in the AHL to grow confidence as a scorer and develop his versatility as a forward. Next year we can start making more serious judgments. In his nine games, he performed like the overmatched rookie he was -- and that's ok.