SIOUX CITY | Sampo Ranta’s game is all about space.
Give the 17-year old Sioux City Musketeer left wing space, even a crease, and he’ll begin to create.
Once Ranta finds that opening on the ice, he'll search for an opportunity to score. If he can’t find one for himself, he’ll look for teammates.
Ranta uses a combination of speed, physicality and a rocket of a shot which has resulted in a team-high 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) for a squad destined to reverse the misfortunes of an early disappointing 7-11-3 start. Musketeers Coach Luke Strand says the 6-foot-1, 192-pound native of Naantali, Finland, also possesses a combination of dynamic offense and NHL skating ability.
“He’s a dynamic player who’s always making plays,” said Ranta’s linemate, Micah Miller. “His big thing is speed. He has a great shot and he gets open and he gets into good areas. He has great vision. He finds guys.”
A right wing, Miller’s 10 points included six goals and an assist in a stretch where he scored in five of seven games earlier this month. Another linemate of Ranta’s, center Martin Pospisil (1, 6), seems to be hitting his stride with the first multiple-point game of his USHL career, a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over Central Illinois on Dec. 16.
“Sampo can create separation with his speed,” said Strand. “It gets other people more ice time, too. He definitely at this level, draws a number of defenders towards him and game plan strategy towards him, so others get ice to do things with. He constantly wants to be a better player every single day, which is an impressive trait.”
Ranta describes Pospisil as a versatile playmaker who sees the ice well, has skills and is a “genius” with the puck. Ranta calls Miller a hard-skating worker with a strong shot.
“(Miller) makes space for me and Pos,” said Ranta. “I really like playing with those guys. There will always be good chemistry. We kind of know where we are. I think we just have to keep going. If we get a couple of goals, we’re going to be on fire again.
“I think (skating) is the biggest part of my game. I have speed so I can drive deep and make plays with my speed. That’s what I try to use against other teams. With my shot, I shoot a lot and create scoring chances for those guys. I talk with them a lot, like, ‘What do we do,’ ‘Who’s open’ and ‘What should we do’. I try to do my best to help Pos and Micah do their best. We all have good games.”
Ranta made it a concerted effort to help himself and his game by becoming more physical before his second USHL season. Signed as a tender with the Musketeers as a 15-year old in May of 2016, he didn't play the required 55 percent of the games because of a knee injury in the 2016 preseason. He was limited to 30 games.
In the long run, Ranta’s strength will boost his chances for becoming the second straight Finnish Musketeer (following Eeli Tolvanen) to be a first-round NHL Draft pick. Next year, he’ll begin action at the University of Wisconsin.
“He signed his letter of intent, so that would be the plan he has,” said Strand. “He’s very motivated. There is no short cut to what he wants to become and what he wants to do about it. One thing, Wisconsin is going to get a great player. Plus, whoever selects him (in the NHL Draft) will get a player who will play for a long time.”
Ranta isn’t thinking about his future. He’s eyeing only the present and how to be a part of the Musketeers’ turnaround.
Scoreless in the squad’s recent 2-1 (shootout) and 5-2 sweep over Central Illinois, Ranta certainly had scoring chances. His parents, Esa and Ruusa Ranta, were at the Tyson Events Center watching their son get checked hard to the boards in both games.
“I’m aware of what’s going to happen,” said Ranta, who had four preseason goals, one less than another Finn, Samuel Salonen. “I have to get used to it. If you want to be the top scorer, the other team is going to make you feel they have to play hard against you.
“They try not to give me any space. They’re hard on me. Sometimes, it’s dirty for a little bit. They try to get me frustrated. So I have to win the battles and win the 1 on 1’s. I try to create space for myself, make a move or get out of scrums with the puck. That’s what I have to do to be successful.”
Strand feels that as Ranta’s game continues to grow, each of his strengths are effective because he’s getting pucks and creating puck opportunities for others. He also believes that Ranta’s offensive frustrations don’t last long.
“When offensive players don’t have their immediate success, their first level is frustration, but then they have a mindset of how to fix it,” said Strand. “Sampo doesn’t live in that whole frustration as every player should. You should get frustrated. I don’t think he stays there long enough for it to affect his game.”