Cage Match: Mikko Rantanen vs. Anthony Mantha

by Rick Roos on October 11, 2017

Two former first-round picks battle it out in this week's Cage Match

Although Mikko Rantanen and Anthony Mantha have been on the radar of poolies in keeper leagues since they were drafted (if not even earlier), chances are they’re attracting interest in more one-year leagues this season. The goal in this week’s battle is to see which player has the best chance of 2017-18 success, plus who’ll pan out better long-term. Let’s dive in – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Rantanen, who turns 21 later this month, was drafted 10th overall in 2015 following two seasons in Liiga. He received a nine-game NHL cameo in 2015-16, with zero points to show for it, but lit up the AHL to the tune of 60 points in 52 games. Given his stellar AHL performance and Colorado’s struggles as a team, it was no surprise to see him play nearly all last season in the NHL, where he posted 38 points (including 20 goals) and had two separate months where he tallied ten points.

Mantha, 22, was selected 20th overall in 2013 after two junior seasons, then proceeded to lead the entire QMJHL in scoring in 2014-15. Yet as is the norm for the Red Wings, he wasn’t rushed into the NHL. Instead, he played 122 AHL games over the next two seasons, posting a solid but not amazing 78 total points, plus three points in a ten-game NHL stint in 2015-16. Mantha didn’t take the ice for an NHL game last season until November, but then hit the ground running with 31 of his 36 points coming in his first 45 games. He slowed significantly after that, however, and didn’t play in the team’s last five games.

Both players are still on their ELC. Rantanen’s ends after 2018-19 and counts $0.894M per year against the cap. Mantha will be an RFA following this season, during which he’ll earn $0.886M.

Ice Time


Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)


18:03 (M.R.) – 4th

15:54 (A.M.) – 7th

2:43 (M.R.) – 2nd

1:53 (A.M.) – 7th

0:04 (M.R.) – 13th

0:02 (A.M.) 13th (tied)

There were larger gaps here than I expected. Not surprisingly, that means their points per 60 minutes rates were pretty far apart despite their similar scoring totals – 1.68 for Rantanen, 2.26 for Mantha.

Before we use this to tilt the scales toward Mantha, we must account for Detroit’s system being one where Ice Time is flat for forwards. In fact, last season their second highest Ice Time average among all forwards was 17:26 per game, and eight forwards played 50+ games while averaging 15:22+ TOI. Only Toronto had both a lower per game average TOI for their second highest forward, plus eight forwards who played 50+ games while all averaging 15:22+ TOI. What this means is, even if Mantha becomes a bona fide top six winger, that buys him maybe a minute more of 5x5 Ice Time per game. Presuming he maintains his P/60 rate and plays 80 games, that added Ice Time would net him all of three more points. There still could be gains elsewhere, such as on the PP or by shooting more or via team scoring, but this shows without ample Ice Time even a talented player can have a ceiling on his production.

On the other hand there’s Rantanen, who, whether due to talent or to necessity in view of Colorado’s struggles (or both), walked directly into a much larger role than Mantha. The fact that Rantanen was able to score 20 goals without also tallying 40 points is, in my opinion, a function of playing for a subpar team and actually reflects well upon him. Past results would support this theory, as going back to the 2001-02 season, only three other players have scored 20+ goals but fewer than 40 points in a season by age 20, with one (Daniel Sedin) becoming a legitimate superstar, another (Sean Monahan) already an emerging young star, and the third (Brandon Sutter) ending up in a more defensive role, which is not realistic for Rantanen’s style of play.

Both players also stand to benefit once their teams improve. If that doesn’t happen soon, however, it could hurt Rantanen more than Mantha. After all, Rantanen is in a top line role already, so he could be seen as a fall guy for lack of team improvement. On the other hand, if Detroit doesn’t improve, that could help chart an easier path to a top line role for Mantha. These things having been said, and as was discussed above, the “prize” of being a top line player isn’t as great in Detroit as it would be elsewhere due to the team’s flatter approach to Ice Time.

Secondary Categories



(per game)


(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)


(per game)

PP Points

(per game)


0.29 (M.R.)

0.88 (A.M.)

0.38 (M.R.)

0.76 (A.M.)

0.44 (M.R.)

0.55 (A.M.)

1.77 (M.R.)

2.21 (A.M.)

0.13 (M.R.)

0.05 (A.M.)

Mantha clearly holds the edge in multi-cats, and his cross-category production as a rookie put him in fine fantasy company. Since 2000-01, five other rookies played at least 60 games while producing 0.25+ goals per game, 2+ SOG per game, 0.7+ Hits per game, and 0.5+ Blocked Shots per game: Sidney Crosby, Gabriel Landeskog, Ondrej Palat, Taylor Hall, and Logan Couture, each of whom scored at least 63 points in a season by his age 23 campaign.

And guess what – Mantha’s lack of PP scoring actually puts him in decent company too. Since 2000-01, six other players produced 0.6+ points per game while playing 60+ games despite posting three or fewer PPPts: Mike Hoffman, Brad Marchand, Brandon Saad, Alex Burrows, Brendan Morrow, and Pascal Dupuis, who each scored 59+ points in a season in their career. There’s a negative, however, in that all six met the criteria while averaging less PP Time per game than Mantha, although Hoffman (1:44 per game) and Saad (1:34) were in a similar ballpark. So while his lack of PP scoring last season wasn’t ideal, the worry factor is lessened somewhat by past player results, even if they’re not entirely comparable.

With Rantanen, the glaring data is his SOG rate, which is low enough to realize - even before we get to the next section – his personal shooting percentage will be high. But there’s hope, since in his last 12 games of 2016-17 he not only posted eight points (six goals) but fired 32 SOG, or 2.66 per game. Thus, while he was scoring on a higher percentage of shots than might be sustainable, at least the SOGs were there.

Luck-Based Metrics


Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5x5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %


15.0% (M.R.)

12.8% (A.M.)

8.08% (M.R.)

9.55% (A.M.)

56.7% (M.R.)

73.5% (A.M.)

50.3% (M.R.)

51.3% (A.M.)

24.6 (M.R.)

27.3 (A.M.)

44% (M.R.)

68% (A.M.)

One number that jumps off the page is Mantha’s 68 percent secondary assists rate, with a mere six of his 19 assists in 2016-17 being primary. That’s an extremely high secondary assists rate and would normally suggest a player that’s not a strong scorer who lucked into more points than he deserved.

In looking at past results, there’s perhaps cause for added concern, since going back to 2011-12 (the first season secondary assists were charted by, five forwards finished a season with 13+ secondary assists but six or fewer primary assists, with two being veterans near the end of their career (Matt Cooke, Vinny Prospal), two who did so before their peak age but thus far haven’t panned out (Cody Eakin, and former first rounder Patrik Berglund), and the last being Alexander Ovechkin in 2015-16, who proceeded to post his lowest ever 80+ game scoring total the very next season.

Beyond that concern, there’s also the fact that Detroit’s 5x5 Team Shooting percentage while Mantha was on the ice was above the 9.0% that’s typical for forwards. Looking at these factors, the clear impression is Mantha lucked into more points in 2016-17 than he technically deserved, which would mitigate against some of the more positive factors pointed out above. But before talking him down too much, let’s not overlook that his IPP was above 70%, suggesting he’s very talented. So it’s a mixed message overall.

For Rantanen, his personal shooting percentage was high. However, if a player is a pure goal scorer, a shooting percentage at or near 15% can be sustainable. The issue is whether Rantanen fits that mold, and we can’t tell since early on he wasn’t firing many shots on goal, and once he did they were going into the net. One key is notwithstanding his “high” personal shooting %, his team shooting % at 5x5 was well below the 9.0% forward average, indicating that even if his goal total was to come back to earth, there’s room for what otherwise would’ve been goals to instead be assists.

Also, Rantanen’s ASD was 24.6, putting him in impressive company of five players, who, since 2011-12 (when started keeping track of ASD), potted 20+ goals in 75+ games with an ASD of less than 25 feet in their rookie season. Two of the five were superstars from the start (Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews), another has since gone on to score 34 goals in a season (Anders Lee), the fourth sports a career scoring rate of 61.5 points (Mark Stone) and the last, Sam Reinhart, is still just 21.

Early Results for 2017-18

Both players hit the scoresheet in their first contest (1G, 2A for Mantha; 1G for Rantanen) then went scoreless in their second game. Mantha nearly equaled his entire 2016-17 man advantage output with two PPPts in that first game, and played 51% of his team’s total PP minutes in those two contests, up from 36% last season. Yet his total Ice Time average is barely above 14:00 per game; and although to some degree that’s a function of him not seeing PK shifts, he’s apparently still going to be in suboptimal Ice Time situation, making a full-fledged breakout unlikely.

Rantanen’s overall TOI per game is slightly down (17:08), but that too is mostly due to the Avs being penalized several times and Rantanen not playing on the PK. Thus, he still seems fine in that area. What’s more, he’s seen a spike in PP usage to 73% of his team’s total PP time. If Colorado uses a true PP1 unit this season (as opposed to two more balanced units) and Rantanen remains part of it, that should give him a big boost in scoring. Rantanen also fired two SOG in each of his first two games, so he’s keeping up a good chunk of his late 2016-17 momentum in that area.

Who Wins?

It’s not easy to name a winner, particularly with the data and comparables on Mantha being at such extremes. For now though, that variation, plus the flat Ice Time system in place in Detroit, point me to Rantanen as the victor.

Rantanen’s only glaring negatives were his SOG rate, which, as I noted, he seemed to be overcoming as the season was ending and is still looking good in early 2017-18, plus his lower IPP, which we can look past for now. When all is said and done in their careers, it could be Mantha who’s the better of the two, but the edge for at least the near term future belongs to Rantanen.

If you have Mantha in a keeper, either hold or, if you’re truly in win-now mode, see if you can seize upon his hot start to parlay him into a proven asset to help you achieve a championship this season. As for Rantanen, he probably won’t net you enough of a fair return to justify trading, and he might even do well enough over the course of the season to make you glad you held onto him.


  • finminer

    I’m in a bit of a quandary. I have Rantanen and Aho in my roto/cap/keeper league, on equal ELC’s. Although it is roto scoring, most of the categories are scoring-based. I’m a solid Cup contender this year and will need to trade one of them to get a high end rental like Patrick Kane. Which one?

    • Rick Roos

      From where I sit, there are two ways to approach this. First, you could dangle both and see how the other GM reacts, then go from there. Or if you have to make the first move, I think the way to go is to part with Rantanen since Aho likely will net you more points this season and that will help you win your league’s Cup. Tough to lose either one, but it’s smart of you to be thinking of things like this now, rather than be left scrambling later when the Kane owner will have you more behind the 8 ball.