Friday, June 5, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: Mikko Rantanen Write-Up

While I finished my initial preview write-up for the Devils, I wanted to explore other players and get my thoughts out there for each player I will be writing about. For each write-up I will include links to my other player previews:

-Mathew Barzal
-Denis Guryanov
-Rasmus Andersson

For this next player, I expect him to go anywhere from the 6th overall selection to the 13th overall selection this year. Without further ado, let’s take a look at:

Mikko Rantanen
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 211 lbs
Position: RW (sometimes C)
Shoots: Left
Team (League): TPS Turku (Liiga)
ISS rank: 9
CSS rank: 1 (EU Skaters)
FC rank: 8
THN rank: 12
Statline for 2014-2015 Season:  56 GP, 9G 19A 28P 22PIM, -1, 0.5 Points/Game

Introducing “The Finnish Bull”, Mikko Rantanen. The first thing I noticed about Rantanen was not necessarily his massive frame, but how elegantly he uses his entire reach. He knows he’s tall and lanky, and will play keep away from defensemen when he has the puck. In addition to that, he has the size and strength to barrel through most defensemen that stand in his way. Despite his large stature as well, Rantanen is quite the mobile and nimble skater, with great top-end speed and agility to boot. Rantanen’s use of his reach as an advantage over defenders is really a staple of his offensive game. If there are two words I would use to describe his offensive game, it would be “reach” and “havoc”. If you are reading other scouting reports on Rantanen, chances are they will include the word “havoc”. This is due to a variety of things, mainly his drive to the front of the net, his physicality going through defensemen, his overall powerforward playing style, and his offensive playmaking ability.

With more viewings of Mikko Rantanen, it’s pretty clear that he’s an overall smooth player. I mean that in the way of his skating, hands, shooting, deking, passing, backchecking…they’re all smooth and almost effortless. I will include a link to a shift-by-shift video of him done a couple months ago (not by me) that shows his smooth game play. It’s this combination of smoothness and havoc that make Mikko Rantanen such an intriguing prospect for the Draft, later this month. A few things I haven’t touched on yet in this preview are just how good his forechecking, puckhandling, and defensive game are.

Rantanen is a smart player, a very smart player. He knows where he needs to go on the ice almost at all times, and his size and strength allow him to get where he thinks he needs to be. This oftentimes include putting the puck past a defender and dragging it to himself (behind the defender’s legs) as he drives to the net or the slot for a good shot opportunity. Defensively, as mentioned above, he’s stellar. This includes nearly every defensive situation. The thing I would like to see him improve upon is his physicality in the defensive zone. When an attacker is approaching I’d like to see Rantanen try to not lead with his stick as much, and try to physically separate the attacker from the puck.

One of the most exciting elements of Rantanen’s game is that he is already a full-fledged player for Finland’s highest professional league, Liiga. Not only this, but Rantanen was the leading point scorer for his team, TPS. The previous leading scorer for the team, who left after 43 for the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), registered 36 points for TPS in that time. The kicker? He’s 10 years older than Rantanen. Regardless, for 25 games, Rantanen represented his TPS team by wearing the golden helmet, which signifies a team’s leading scorer. This was not Rantanen’s first season in Liiga (with TPS) either. In fact, he had been playing in Liiga games since his 15-16 year old season. As of today, Rantanen has accumulated 108 games of playing experience in Finland’s highest professional league. Needless to say, this is extremely impressive, especially for a young man who is just draft-eligible age this year.

Adding on to his professional experience, Rantanen’s TPS Turku played in the first tournament of the Champions Hockey League since 2009. Of the 8 games TPS played in the tournament, Rantanen played in 6 of them, and he scored 2 goals in the process. Let me just take this time and try not to sound rude, but TPS was a very bad team last season. I wouldn’t use the term “dumpster fire”, but it’s a huge concern when a team’s leading scorer leaves after 2/3rds of a season to go to another country and league. That being said, Rantanen handled himself very well. He wore an “A” for the entire season as well.

More recently, Mikko Rantanen represented Team Finland in the World Junior Championship played in Canada. In the 5 games played, Rantanen lead the team with 4 goals. While those statistics don’t necessarily jump off the page, just remember that Team Finland scored 8 goals total that tournament. Rantanen scored half of the team’s overall goals.

Rantanen’s resume is very impressive, and his playing style seems to be a great fit for the NHL. It’s interesting to see how the power forward’s game will change when he is playing in the smaller-sized rinks of the NHL rather than the larger-sized rinks of Finland and Europe.

One of the many things I like about Rantanen’s game is that it is not flashy. Rantanen just does his job and moves from Point A to Point B. He is a tenacious shot blocker, and is a very impressive playmaker. He likes to make plays from behind the opponent’s net. He mostly gets there through his forechecking and from his good gaining of the offensive zone. Despite his deceptive snap shot, I’d like to see him improve on his overall shot speed. He’s good at placing his shot though. I’d also like to see him increase his consistent physicality. One last note of improvement for Rantanen would be increasing his overall lower body strength, which will only increase his overall effectiveness.

Mikko Rantanen is everything one looks for in an NHL power-forward. He has all the tools and skills, not to mention great hockey IQ. The thing I like about Rantanen’s gameplay is that if his offensive skills do not translate to North America, or if he does not further his development, which is highly improbable, his physical toolset allows him to be a capable Bottom-6 winger for an NHL team. However, I think it’s much more likely that Rantanen develops into a strong Top-6 RW. Rantanen plays a solid two-way game, and is dangerous as soon as he enters the offensive zone. I think an NHL team will be very happy with their selection when they choose Mikko Rantanen.

As said before, here is the video of a shift-by-shift (actually I’ll embed two videos). Again, I did not create these. I prefer shift-by-shift videos much more than highlight videos since they show every aspect of one’s game.

(As the title says, Rantanen is wearing #96 in white, with the golden helmet)

I hope you enjoyed my preview of Mikko Rantanen. The NHL Entry Draft is only 21 days away! I will post more prospect/player previews as the days pass.

If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see my write about, please let me know!

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@DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

Thanks for reading!

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