Mikko Rantanen jumped back into the Avalanche lineup Saturday night for the first time in 16 games and he looked as sharp as he had prior to the awkward lower-body injury we witnessed in St. Louis back in late October.
On their way to a 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, Rantanen slid seamlessly back onto the Avs top line playing with his usual center, Nathan MacKinnon, and current Gabe Landeskog fill-in, Joonas Donskoi on the opposite wing. Combined, the trio ended the night with 11 points with Rantanen contributing a goal and three assists.
“Well obviously getting Mikko back is helping us a lot,” Donskoi said on his line’s performance Saturday. “He’s an amazing player and was making great plays tonight, so we were able to find the back of the net tonight pretty good. I don’t know, it felt good.”
Along with adding four points to the score sheet, Rantanen looked comfortable in his return, both from a mental and physical standpoint. Considering Nathan MacKinnon has called him “one of the best players in the world” on several occasions, it was no surprise to MacKinnon to see his linemate have such a strong showing in his first game in over a month.
“I think he’s just trying to work hard and he’s such an amazing player,” Mackinnon said. “I remember when he came back from his contract, came a little late to camp, his first practice on the ice he was the best player on the ice by a mile. It doesn’t take him much to get comfortable and I’m so happy to see him out there.”
Of course, MacKinnon is happy to see his linemate out there. Without Rantanen, the Avalanche were a mediocre 8-7-1. Following Saturday night’s victory, the Avalanche are now 8-1-1 with Rantanen in the lineup and he has tallied 16 points in those 10 games.
Much like MacKinnon, coach Jared Bednar is not surprised at Rantanen’s ability to have an immediate impact in his return saying, “He’s an elite player. He really is. The way he thinks the game, the way he maneuvers around the ice, his skill, ability, size, strength. All of that, you know he’s going to be able to produce.”
Rantanen now has high expectations upon him to produce at a consistent level. These are expectations that he is clearly more than capable of meeting, and even going beyond, on a regular basis.
With a wave of injured players making their way back to the lineup on the horizon, Rantanen is not only the first piece to return to the proverbial puzzle, but the most important as well. Rantanen’s return could mark the beginning of a dominant stretch for the Avs, giving them a chance to regain some of the ground in the Central Division standings that had slipped away since he has been hurt.