The 2015 NHL Draft was an exciting weekend for Colorado Avalanche fans as they finally saw an ending to the Ryan O’Reilly saga. To top things off, the franchise walked out of the draft with a plethora of young talents to boost the strength of their prospect pool.
Headlining the team’s 2015 draft class is Mikko Rantanen, the top ranked European skater in the NHL’s final Central Scouting Services rankings. The Finnish forward is an amazing blend of top-end skills and smooth European skating.
In addition to Rantanen, the Avalanche selected three forwards and three defensemen. A noticeable difference between this year’s draft class and the previous years is that none of the players picked played in the WHL or OHL. In fact, three were selected from European leagues, three from the QMJHL, and one from the NCAA. It is easy to see how big of an involvement Patrick Roy had in the selections.
Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS Turku (Liiga)
1st round, 10th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 211 lbs
Mikko Rantanen was targeted by Joe Sakic before the draft started. He was so highly coveted that Sakic, the Avalanche’s general manager, tried to make a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets so the Avalanche could move up two spots. Luckily, Rantanen was still available when it was the Avalanche’s turn at tenth.
The Nousiainen native has played a total of 108 games in Finland’s top professional league. The first came in the later part of the 2012-13 season. However, it was really this past season that he showed he was more than capable of playing with men and was the most valuable player for his club, TPS Turku.
“I think when I played men’s the last two years, it has helped me a lot to battle with the big guys and get stronger and get used to that physical play,” says Rantanen on his experience in playing in Finland’s top league. “I think it has helped me to think about how to play in the NHL.”
With 28 points in 56 games, he finished second in team scoring despite being only 17 years old when the season started. As the season went on his confidence grew and fans were treated to spectacular end-to-end rushes and glimpses of a future NHL star.
Rantanen has a good chance of making the NHL club on opening night with a strong training camp performance but if he is better served developing in a lower league for another season, he will have the luxury of returning home to his native Finland or staying in North America and playing in the AHL for the San Antonio Rampage. There is no doubt he’d be ready for the rigors of a more physical North American style of play as the Finnish Elite League, the league he has played in the last three seasons, features a more bruising type of hockey than other European leagues.
When asked how he thought he would be able to make the adjustment, he was confident in his abilities: “small rink, things happen faster and you have to think quicker and do things quicker. It’s a lot different but I enjoy playing in small rinks, and I think I can play there, and I will.”
Rantanen attended the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in early June. He met with the media following his testing session, with some of that discussion being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
A.J. Greer, LW, Boston University (Hockey East)
2nd round, 39th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 204
There were a lot of players the Avalanche could have chosen with the 39th overall pick but the team saw something in A.J. Greer that stood out above the rest. His size and toughness is something the prospect pool is lacking and head coach Patrick Roy has gone on record to say his team needs more of both to compete in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.
Greer played prep school hockey for Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire for two seasons from 2012-14. He also had short stints with the Boston Jr. Bruins Midget AAA club and the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL. He had the option of returning to Kimball for another year but decided to accelerate his studies and join the Boston University Terriers as a 17 year old freshman.
When asked at the draft if he regretted his decision to make the early jump, he was quick to answer.
“Not at all, it was definitely a hard transition from prep school hockey to college and I would never take back that decision just because of the maturity I gained on and off the ice,” said Greer. “The experiences I’ve been through with the guys at Boston University, just the life moments and life experiences I’ve gained, is something I’ll never regret doing.”
Although his ice time was limited and he was often a healthy scratch or playing on the fourth line, by the time the Terriers were deep into their 2014-15 season he was playing on the second line. Next year, he is expected to play a significant role for the Terriers as many upperclassmen have graduated or signed professional contracts.
Greer met with the media following his selection by the Avalanche, with some of his comments being included in this HF video.