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Avalanche’s Rantanen on Verge of Special Season

A lot of the talk around the Colorado Avalanche has been focused on the multitude of injuries the team has had to endure through the first half of the season. However, one player that hasn’t missed a game is putting up a fantastic season in the middle of all that chatter about who hasn’t been available.

Mikko Rantanen is having the best offensive season of his career, sitting third in the NHL in goals with 34. Only Connor McDavid (41) and David Pastrnak (38) have more. He’s played in all 48 of Colorado’s games and is one of just five players that can make that claim. He sits just two shy of his career high in goals, and his current play projects him to have one of the all-time greatest goal-scoring seasons in Avalanche history.

Rantanen’s Chase for 50 Goals

Only four players in franchise history have hit the 50-goal mark, and nobody has done it in Colorado’s last 20 seasons. Milan Hejduk was the last Avalanche player to hit that milestone, racking up 50 goals in the 2002-03 season on the way to winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Joe Sakic is the only other Avs player to do it, scoring 51 in 1995-96 and 54 in 2000-01; Sakic also took home the Hart Trophy in 2001.

Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The franchise’s other 50-goal seasons came before the relocation, when they were still the Quebec Nordiques. Jacques Richard was the first to hit it with 52 goals in 1980-81, and then Michel Goulet went on a tear. Goulet eclipsed 50 goals in four straight seasons between 1982-86, starting with a franchise record 57 goals in a season in 1982-83. He tallied 56 the following year, then 55 in 1984-85, and 53 in 1985-86. Goulet’s 456 career goals are second only to Sakic’s 625 on the franchise leaderboard.

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Rantanen’s current pace puts him on track to score 58 goals this season — if he remains healthy and keeps it up through all 82 games. He has never played a full season but has appeared in 74 or more games in four of his six full NHL campaigns. The other two were shortened by COVID, so it bodes well for Rantanen to make a decent run at the milestone.

The Avalanche closed out January with a 7-1 record over the last eight games, including a six-game winning streak, and Rantanen was the driving force behind the success. He has seven goals and three assists in those eight games and is shooting a blistering 30.4 percent while averaging 21:15 in ice time. The surge has gotten the Avs right back into the thick of the playoff hunt at the All-Star break.

Next Goal Gives Rantanen 200 in Career

Whether he hits 50 goals this season or not, Rantanen will hit another milestone very soon. Entering the All-Star break, Rantanen sits at 199 career goals. That means his next tally will make him the ninth player in franchise history with 200 for his career. Two of his current teammates – Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog – are also on that list. And this likely won’t be the last major milestone Rantanen hits, as he just turned 26 earlier this season.

Colorado Avalanche Mikko RantanenColorado Avalanche left wing Mikko Rantanen (AP Photo/Craig Lassig, File)

Rantanen’s consistency is starting to get noticed. He reached his first All-Star Game in 2020-21 and will make his second All-Star appearance this season, thanks to the furious start. Colorado has leaned on him more than ever before. Rantanen is averaging 22:49 of ice time this season, easily the highest of his career and more than three minutes over his career average of 19:46.

Last season was the best of Rantanen’s career, as he set career highs in goals (36) and points (92) while matching his career-best of 56 assists. He looks like he could blast past those point totals this season and is virtually a lock to eclipse his career-best in goals. His first 40-goal season also seems on the horizon, and the sky could be the limit once his familiar linemates get healthy. MacKinnon is back, and Landeskog is expected to return soon.

Rantanen Was Steadying Force Through Injuries

While the Avalanche have struggled to piece together a consistent lineup through the first couple months of the season, Rantanen’s goals have been coming with remarkable efficiency. He’s averaging 0.71 goals per game – which puts him at the same efficiency as Goulet delivered in both 1982-83 and 1985-86. He’s been a steady performer since 2017-18, having scored at least 29 goals in every season but one since then. The outlier was the COVID-shortened 2019-20 campaign, when he scored 19 goals in just 42 games. Through the first half of 2022-23, Rantanen went more than two games without a point just once – a four-game stretch back in October.

Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko RantanenColorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Avs have needed that production, too. With players like Landeskog, MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin missing extended periods of time, Colorado has leaned on Rantanen. Since that brief October slump, Rantanen’s rough nights have been few and far between. In the 40 games since Oct. 29, Rantanen has recorded a point in 28 of those contests – and went without a point in back-to-back games just twice. He hasn’t slowed down with MacKinnon’s return, netting 10 goals and six assists in January.

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The team is also trying to defend their Stanley Cup title from last season, a prospect that looked much more daunting a month ago. If the season ended today, Colorado would take the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. However, in the Central Division, the Avalanche are only one point behind the third-place Minnesota Wild and just six points behind the second-place Winnipeg Jets; Colorado has also played three fewer games than Winnipeg, as well. If Rantanen’s consistency continues, he should be in line for the team’s first 50-goal season since Hejduk’s thrilling run 20 seasons ago. If Colorado expects to make another deep run in the playoffs, expect Rantanen to be a force for the Avalanche the rest of the way.

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The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120KerryCollins

Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.

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