When we talk about the modern-era for the NHL, Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers are likely referring to the post-expansion era but for Millennials, the modern era really refers to 2005 and beyond.
Since the lockout that cost the NHL the entire 2004-05 season, the league has changed. New rules came into effect, the standard play changed and the all around speed and talent the game is played with has changed things significantly.
The talent level we see in today’s game is significantly higher than was present at the turn of the century. Gone are unimpressive goons like Colton Orr, John Scott and Riley Cote while players like Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and Mitch Marner thrive because of a new style that allows raw talent to flourish.
In the 13 seasons since the lockout, we have seen a number of incredibly impressive offensive seasons. In 2007-08 Alex Ovechkin won the Art Ross Trophy on the back of a ridiculous 65 goals. In 2005-06, Joe Thornton won the scoring race by putting up nearly 100 assists - he ended with 96. Then there’s Connor McDavid and his other worldly 208 points over the past two seasons.
This year, Mikko Rantanen is on pace to eclipse them all.
Through the first 33 games of the season Rantanen doesn’t only lead the NHL in scoring, he is on a 1.697 points per game pace. If that continues over the remainder of the season, the 22-year old Finn will end the season with 139 points. That would be the highest total since Mario Lemieux put up 161 in the 1994-95 season.
We all know Rantanen has been incredible this season but if he remains on this pace, he’d be the first player not named Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky to win an Art Ross Trophy with more than 130 points since 1980.
Rantanen now has 15 goals and 41 assists on the season and his pace has been increasing over the last few weeks. With his three points Saturday night, Rantanen is on a 14 game point streak putting up eight goals and 19 assists in that time.
He could even slow down and still set a new record for the modern-era.
Joe Thornton’s 125 points in 2005-06 is the current benchmark since the lockout. Sidney Crosby’s 120 points a year later is the next highest.
Rantanen needs another 69 points to get to Thornton’s record. With 49 games remaining, that’s a pace of 1.40 points a game over his remaining 49 games. That means his production can drop by 17% and Rantanen will still set a new record of 126 points.
Playing as the best line in hockey, what Rantanen is doing with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog is unparalleled in today’s NHL.
Thanks to MacKinnon’s Hart Trophy worthy season, no one seemed to notice how good Rantanen had become. While he took a huge step, his 84 points masked a few deficiencies in his game that prevented Mikko from being a true superstar a year ago.
Now, with major improvements to his all-around game, he has turned into one of the best players in the NHL in only his third season.
Rantanen is a restricted free agent this summer and while all indications are the Avalanche are going to lock him up to a bridge deal, it’s only a matter of time before he’s locked for the long term.
When he was selected 10th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Avalanche knew they were drafting one hell of a player, but even Joe Sakic would be lying if he said they knew they were getting a superstar of this caliber.
With his play last season, we knew Rantanen had the talent to be one of the best wingers in the NHL - now he’s proving it with an offensive season better than any we’ve see in nearly 25 years.
The most amazing part of all this is that Rantanen is only the second best player on the Colorado Avalanche.