In a day and age when first-round picks are frequently expected to contribute virtually within minutes after hitting the Draft stage, the Ducks have been patient with Rickard Rakell
After the Ducks selected the 22-year-old Swedish center with the 30th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, it took some time for Rakell to truly make an impact at the NHL level. He spent his first post-draft professional season back with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, tallying 44 points in 40 games (including 21 goals). He wouldn’t get a regular season look with the Ducks until January of 2013, going scoreless in four games before heading back to Plymouth to finish the season.
Rakell would get a little more of a chance with Anaheim the following season, scoring no goals and adding four assists in 18 games while spending the bulk of the season with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in Norfolk (a robust 37 points in 46 games). Ironically, he wouldn’t score his first NHL goal until the postseason, potting one on the power play (his only shot of the night) in a Game 5 victory over the Stars at Honda Center. In fact, he went 53 games before finding the net in the regular season.
Last season proved to be a breakout campaign for Rakell, who early on found himself in a battle with fellow Swedish youngster William Karlsson for Anaheim’s fourth-line center spot. Karlsson became a fan favorite (earning the nickname “Wild Bill”) while Rakell actually spent a short stint down in Norfolk in December.
"I think that motivated me, but of course, I was happy for him that he did well too," Rakell told Fox Sports West last spring. "I didn't think that I played to my potential in the beginning. I was maybe playing the game a little bit too simple, just not really doing anything. So when I got back, I just felt like I needed to start doing something to create more offense. Maybe take a little bit more risk, but at the same time just try to do more things."
Back up with Anaheim, Rakell responded with nine goals and 22 assists in 71 games, while also contributing heavily in the defensive end. His play made Karlsson expendable, and just prior to the March 2 trade deadline, the Ducks dealt him to Columbus with Rene Bourque and a draft pick for defenseman James Wisniewski and Detroit’s third-round selection in the 2015 draft.
"The difference was when we made the decision that Rakell was going to have the job," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Then you know that it was up to him to be good every night because there was nobody else backing him up."
If there was one game that showed Rakell belonged, it was on a night where his play might have been overshadowed by the pageantry of the evening. January 11 vs. Winnipeg just happened to be Teemu Tribute Night at Honda Center, where the Ducks honored the franchise legend in a prolific pregame ceremony. Once the game got underway, Rakell ultimately keyed a valiant Ducks comeback victory, notching two goals and two assists (tying the club’s single-game rookie scoring record) and extending the shootout with a conversion in the fourth round. "I don't even know what to say," Rakell told reporters after that game. "It felt really good, especially to win that game."
Rakell’s strong play continued through the regular season and into the playoffs, as he appeared in all 16 postseason games and had the game-winning overtime tip-in goal in Game 3 in Winnipeg. "We just believe in ourselves," Rakell said after that one. "We know we’re a good team, and know that if we play the game the right way, we shouldn’t lose."
Rakell, who shared a house with good friend Hampus Lindholm
all of last season, would seem poised to make himself a permanent fixture in Anaheim in 2015-16, the final year of his entry-level contract. He is currently back home in Sweden training diligently for the upcoming campaign, as this Instagram post indicates
Although, this offseason the Ducks have acquired veteran centers Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli, partly to account for the absence of Nate Thompson, who will be out another 4-5 months following shoulder surgery. Those two join a centermen corps that already has Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler on the top two forward lines. What that could mean for Rakell remains to be seen, but all signs point to last season signifying a sign of great things to come.
Rakell’s second goal in that aforementioned breakout game vs. Winnipeg was a thing of beauty, tying it 4-4 with just 2:03 left in regulation. Off a Jets turnover, Rakell went hard to the net, where he took in a feed from Patrick Maroon. The pass was slightly off target, but Rakell tapped it to himself between his skates before sliding it inside the right post.