If Sampo Ranta wants to stick, it’s going to have to be about more than just his stick.
“There (are) some things (the Avs) defensively want to see from me,” the young Colorado winger noted late last week before leaving for the NHL rookie tournament in San Jose.
“Physicality, that energy, you know, skating, you know, just being tough to play against.
“Of course, (and) making plays. I’ve been a goal-scorer for my whole life, so bringing that aspect, too. But definitely more (of a) defensive role … that’s the biggest key.”
Even with the free-agent losses of Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, the defending Stanley Cup champions are going to open preseason camp with plenty of offensive firepower returning to the fold.
If the 22-year-old Ranta is going to work his way onto a deep Avs roster for the start of the regular season, director of player development Brian Willsie noted, the issue will have been forced by the Finland native’s all-around development. Including on the defensive side of the equation.
“It’s just more (about him) taking control of the game,” Willsie said of the team’s expectations for Ranta, a third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. “He’s a such a big, strong player, so we’re looking for speed, obviously — the way the Avalanche and (AHL) Eagles play is a fast-paced, transition game.
“Someone like (Ranta should be) more of a leader out there. He’s going into second year pro now, so we’ll look for more of that. (As well as) scoring some goals around the net, forechecking, forcing turnovers that’s his game, protecting the puck, making plays off contact — someone like watching Gabe (Landeskog) or Mikko (Rantanen) or (someone) like that, that’s kind of the model (for) making plays after contact.”
The 6-foot-2 forward made 10 regular-season appearances with the Avs last season and even made a pair of playoff cameos, picking up 14 postseason minutes during the franchise’s long Cup run last spring.
But Ranta’s still looking to nail down a role within a forward rotation that can play fast, big, or both, depending on the opponent and circumstance. Which is where the defensive reliability — the Finn recorded a negative-4 plus-minus over 109 minutes of regular-season ice time in ’21-22 — doesn’t hurt.
“He’s bang-on,” Willsie said with a knowing smile. “(Ranta is) a good self-evaluator. (It’s) reliability. When a coach is looking down or there’s a call to be had and he’s up here and Jared (Bednar) is looking down, you’ve got to be reliable. You’ve got to have that trust from the coach. So that’s something he will want to earn, for sure.”
Ranta credits offseason film work, watching clips of both himself and other players, with smoothing over some rough edges and boosting his confidence heading into the preseason. The Finn’s comfort on an offensive level, at least against his peers, was evident from the get-go at the NHL rookie tourney. During the Avs’ first game, against the Los Angeles Kings, the winger fired home Colorado’s second goal, beating the goalie and the post, to help the Burgundy and Blue take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
“I think I’ve got to play my game (this season),” Ranta said. “Being physical, winning the battles, being a (hard) guy to play against, being reliable defensively and making some plays offensively. You know, tire the other teams (by being) big, physical. That’s my game.”
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