The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers and 320 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
It became clear as soon as Mikko Rantanen made his way to the NHL that he was there to stay.
Although he struggled to put up supplementary numbers during the disastrous 2016-17 campaign for Colorado, Rantanen’s 20-goal season as a rookie was one of the few bright spots during the worst year in the team’s recent history.
Once the rest of the offense got moving around him, he only continued to get better - proving that the 20 goals, as suspected, were far from a fluke. If anything, the mere 18 assists he put up in his first year were the outlier.
Rantanen walked away from the 2017-18 season with 29 goals, coming in just shy of the 30-goal mark and scoring a whopping 12 on the man advantage. Although his shooting percentage remains a bit elevated compared to league norms, the eye test suggests that the Finnish-born winger could simply have the Phil Kessel touch; although it’s not typical for NHLers to shoot significantly above around a 10% success rate over the course of their career, Rantanen may very well end up much closer to his current 15.3% than not. His ability to find the net and the accuracy with which he manages to shoot even in real-time hints at the kind of career scoring totals that only a handful of NHLers will ever get to see in the modern era.
There isn’t much to dislike about Rantanen’s game. Although he does lack a bit of playmaking ingenuity, he’s fast enough and smart enough to hold his own with other talented players and help contribute to team scoring, rather than simply benefitting from an elite center.
Having one of those certainly doesn’t hurt, though, and Rantanen has been reaping the benefits. It’s rare that a 21-year-old forward puts up 84 points in their second NHL season, and even more rare for them to not be considered the best young player on the team - but the only young player better than him, Nathan MacKinnon, is also a big part of why he’s been so successful.
As is evidenced by the voting trends, it’s almost boring to break down why Rantanen is ranked number two on this list. With clear talent, an already-mature demeanor on NHL ice, and plenty of consistency to his game, the only thing stopping Rantanen from being number one on everyone’s ballot is the Hart finalist he skates out alongside.
Next year, don’t be terribly surprised if his numbers fall a tad. Although he should remain scoring at a fairly high clip with above-average shooting accuracy, it’s still somewhat unlikely that he’ll continue to convert at over a 16 percent success rate - and as players like Martin Kaut, Tyson Jost, and Alex Kerfoot continue to develop and improve, Rantanen and the MacKinnon line may find themselves rolling their deployment more evenly with the rest of the team’s forward corps.
Then again, the oldest player on that line last year was Gabriel Landeskog, who barely misses the cutoff for the T25U25 list himself - so if Rantanen and that line manage to find yet another gear next year with continued development, it won’t be the most surprising thing in the world.
For Avalanche fans, the fact that those are the two most realistic possibilities for next year - that Rantanen will either ‘plateau’ in the 70-80 point range or somehow manage to get even better - is a surreal concept to think about. It’s been nearly 20 years since the team was at its very best, but there’s a very good chance they’re headed for another era just like that one.