Although Missouri born, Paul Ranheim developed his hockey expertise in Minnesota's dynamic youth hockey programs. He skated for Edina High School where he captained his team and led them to the State Championships in 1983-84.
On the strength of his budding potential, he was drafted straightaway by the Calgary Flames. But with leanings towards his education, Ranhiem delayed his professional options to attend the University of Wisconsin. In his senior year, he finished the season as a WCHA First-Team All-Star and a NCAA West First-Team All-American.
In 1988-89, Ranheim turned pro, playing most of his first season with the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles of the IHL. His second year brought a full-time promotion to the NHL with the Flames. By that time, he was definitely NHL material. Over the five seasons that followed, he played a well-rounded game balanced by impeccably sound defensive coverage in his own zone plus versatility up front as a quick-skating winger who could skate on either side of centre. He also packed a pretty decent wrist shot that made his Flames' stint the most offensively prolific of his career.
Near the end of the 1993-94 campaign, however, his role underwent a shift with his trade to the Hartford Whalers. His new assignment was more in the vein of a defensive specialist. His offensive numbers naturally declined while his team remained on the outside looking in at the playoffs each year. Ranheim made the transition from Hartford to Carolina in 1997 and remained with the club until his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000.
Ranheim spent parts of three seasons in Philly, before he was acquired by the Phoenix Coyotes early in the 2002-03 season. After only one season with the Coyotes, Ranheim retired from the game following the season.