As part of the AnaheimDucks.com annual Player Reviews, we have been featuring a different Ducks player throughout the summer, in numerical uniform number order. Each review will include key stats, a highlight from last season and an outlook for 2016-17
By Kyle Shohara
There were times last season when Rickard Rakell dazzled, and there were times when he dominated, giving Ducks fans a taste of what’s to come from their 23-year-old forward.
The Sundbyberg, Sweden native had his best season to date, establishing career highs in goals (20), assists (23), points (43) and games played (72), while shattering his previous-best nine-goal, 31-point season from two years ago. It was nothing short of a breakthrough season for Rakell, but a subsequent offseason with little news on contract talks has left fans wondering what’s in store for the budding star.
Currently a restricted free agent, Rakell is one of two key RFAs Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray is trying to lock down. The other is defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who is proving to be a cornerstone of this franchise.
Reports say both players’ respective parties have been in discussions with the Ducks throughout the offseason, and Rakell’s agent, Peter Wallen, recently said he’s confident a contract will be signed by his client.
“We are talking and I think we will find common ground for a solid agreement as I feel both parties seem to want that to happen very much,” said Wallen, in a story written by Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register on July 28.
Whether it’s a long-term contract or a bridge deal remains to be seen, but with training camp still over a month away, there’s still time to hammer out the details before players report to Anaheim.
Rakell was primarily used as the club’s No. 3 center last season – as he’s been throughout his career here – but took a stab at left wing alongside center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry in November. He quickly racked up four goals and eight points in his first 11 games alongside the veterans, and didn’t look out of place or out of sync playing an unfamiliar position.
Throughout the regular season, not only did Rakell score often, but he scored when it mattered. He paced the club with seven game-winning goals, which included two in overtime. Rakell also co-led the Ducks in home plus/minus (+10), ranked tied for third in goals and third overall in shooting percentage (11.8%), while also finishing third among Anaheim forwards in hits (121).
Rakell found the back of the net once in Anaheim's First Round seven-game series against the Nashville Predators, his goal being the second of three the Ducks would score in a 3-0 victory in Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena. He finished the series with two points and 13 shots on goal.
Rakell’s game-changing ability was put on full display against the Edmonton Oilers at Honda Center back on February 26.
In the 3-on-3 sudden death frame, Rakell skated the puck into the neutral zone with David Perron as his wing. As the two entered the zone, they crisscrossed, forcing Edmonton defenseman Brandon Davidson to cover Perron, while forward Leon Draisaitl took Rakell. As the lone forward back, Draisaitl was already on the wrong side (aka the outside) of Rakell, and that gave Rakell an opportunity to cut to the middle with a silky deke that left Draisaitl high and dry. Uncontested, Rakell added more salt to the wound by going upstairs on a backhander against goaltender Cam Talbot, sending the Honda Center faithful into a frenzy.
The goal pushed Anaheim's win streak to a season-high seven straight games and six in a row on home ice, which represented the longest such streaks in the NHL at that time. OUTLOOK
With a contract signed hopefully sooner than later, it’ll be interesting to see how Rakell projects in the long run. Though he’s a proven center with a modest two-way game, he'll need to improve his faceoff win percentage (which was 43.7% last season) in order to take the next step, which, in this case, means top-six minutes and inevitable matchups against opposing top-tier centers.
Or, if he’s used as a wing, can he continue to produce at the pace he showed last season? With the departure of Perron, the revolving door at left wing on the top line returns once again. A permanent switch to left wing could (theoretically) open the door to upgrading the center position via trade, too.
Regardless of the position, it isn't farfetched to think Rakell can become a consistent 20-goal, 50-point player in this league. He’s got all the tools. It’s just a matter of where he uses them.