ANAHEIM -- Center Rickard Rakell practiced with the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, the first time he's been with the team since he signed a six-year contract Oct. 14.
It marked an important step in his rehabilitation from September abdominal surgery.
But mostly Rakell was happy to skate with grownups again.
Stuck in Sweden during his recovery and contract talks with no one to skate with, Rakell turned to his family for help. His cousin had a solution: Skate with his junior team.
Rakell had explored other options but hadn't found a better one. So he joined Nakta, a team of 14-year-olds based outside of Stockholm.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Rakell redirects puck between his legs
"I was happy they let me be on the team and practice with them," Rakell said. "It was a start."
At 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Rakell, 23, was older and bigger than the teenagers. A two-year NHL veteran and a 20-goal scorer last season, Rakell thought that he might be too intimidating; instead, he realized that he was the one who was out of place.
"They were super excited and shy, but I think I was more scared of them than they were of me," Rakell said. "It was a good time for me. I got to do a lot of fun drills I did growing up."
Rakell was grateful for his time with Nakta, and even more grateful to be back on the ice. He had an appendectomy on March 29, and a follow-up abdominal surgery cost him a spot with Team Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He was worried about his long-term health, and as a restricted free agent, he worried about the future of his hockey career as talks with the Ducks dragged on.
"At that stage I was just happy to be back," Rakell said. "Just being on the ice. It didn't really matter what I was doing or who I was playing with. I just appreciated everything a little bit extra after me going through everything that I did."
Video: Discussing Rickard Rakell's new deal with the Ducks
There's no immediate timetable for Rakell's return. His workouts primarily have been off the ice in an effort to get back lost strength and weight. Rakell has not been cleared for contact but expects that to happen soon. But this time, he knows not to rush his recovery.
After his appendectomy in March, Rakell pushed himself to get back in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But he said he never felt like himself in the Ducks' seven-game loss to the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round.
After complications from the appendectomy led to the second surgery in September, he knew he needed to be more cautious in his rehab.
"I was not gambling back then, but I really wanted to play and I wasn't feeling great," Rakell said. "There's a lot of guys with injuries in the playoffs. I don't think that had anything to do with what happened now, but I learned a little bit from that and I don't want to go back too quick."
Rakell's teammate and fellow Swede, defenseman Hampus Lindholm, remains a restricted free agent. Rakell has checked in with his close friend and would like to see Lindholm back as soon as possible. But for now, he said his focus is on his own return.
"I'm just happy that it all got done and I'm super excited to be here for six more years," Rakell said. "I couldn't be more happy."