There's been a lot of talk in Boston recently about the need to return to "Bruins hockey"...and one of the major themes in the comment sections of draft profiles so far has been the debate over where the Bruins have the most need, particularly when talking about depth at wing.
What would you say if I told you there was a player out there who was big, fast and loved playing in the dirty areas? An 18-year old who was 2nd on his team in scoring in a top European men's league already? One who had already worn a letter for said team and was one of the lynchpins of his international squad at his age-group? One who is ranked as the top European skater by NHL Central Scouting?
You'd be all over that as a prospect, wouldn't you?
That player is Mikko Rantanen, a 6'4, 209lb Finnish wrecking ball from the little town of Nousiainen in Western Finland, just outside Turku. He's ranked number 1 in Europe by Central Scouting and anywhere from 7th to 13th in the scout rankings, which means that he may be something of a long shot for the Bruins to get hold of at 14, but is definitely likely to be among the most prized forwards in the draft. Here's his stats so far:
Those stats may not look massively impressive, until you bear in mind two things-one, that Rantanen is 18 playing in a league against far bigger, more experienced players-one that also happens to be one of the best in Europe...and two, that he's the 2nd top scorer on a team that finished 13th out of 14. TPS Turku were BAD this year, and he was one of the few high spots on it. Then, of course, there's his performance at the WJCs-scoring 4 in 5 on a Finland team that struggled to score all tournament:
Rantanen is described by scouts as having "an upright but effective skating style." He's skilled for a big man and almost impossible to move from in front of the net once he sets up there...he's been playing against men from the age of 16 in one of the top 10 leagues in the world, so you'd expect that. He's a tireless forechecker, too...not one who pastes people over the plexi for fun, but one who loves to hassle defencemen and pressure them into giving up the puck - described as a smooth, fluid, big-bodied forward, once he has the puck he knows how to protect it incredibly well using his size and long reach.
He's also effective along the boards. Not a highlight-reel hitter, but very effective on winning the battles he needs to, both in his own age-group and in the Finnish league itself. Hands--wise, Rantanen is more than useful...dominant on the cycle and with the calmness and vision to pick out a team-mate when he has to. His wrist-shot is hard and accurate, and although he doesn't use it massively in the time of game he plays, he has an effective slapper too.He's not a flashy player...just very effective, in that stereotypical way Finns tend to be.
Not the fastest and some scouts like to point to his skating as something he'll need to improve at the NHL level, but all praise his work-rate and name him as a solid two-way player. In mock drafts, Rantanen usually appears in the 7-10 range, which is great news for those teams but possibly a bit of a reach to grab at 14.
However, if he falls, the Bruins could do a lot worse than pick the top-ranked skater in Europe - with another year of development in the Finnish leagues against men he could well be more than ready to be a solid NHL player in 16/17...just about the time many teams will be crying out for good young NHL-ready wingers.
Rantanen could likely fit in anywhere on an NHL top nine eventually...and that's a heck of an asset to draft midway through the first round or even in the lower top ten. Keep an eye on this kid.