The Pittsburgh Penguins once again had a remarkably successful trade deadline. As 4:00 PM hit on March 21, general manager Ron Hextall managed to snap up Rickard Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks, adding to the collection of underrated transactions that have come to define the post-deadline teams of seasons past. Rakell’s arrival will help fix some of the struggles the team has been facing recently and provide a boost to the whole lineup.
Rakell will ignite the Penguins’ depth scoring and provide a much-needed stabilizing presence wherever head coach Mike Sullivan decides to put him, and it’s that exact stabilizing presence that will have a ripple effect across the team.
Rakell Gives Malkin the Steady Winger He’s Been Looking For
In the 28 games since his return from injury, star centre Evgeni Malkin has been playing extremely well, but the team has had issues finding a suitable winger for him. He has been the only steady member of the second line all season, and his supporting cast has rarely matched his ability. Danton Heinen was his regular left-winger until he went down with injury and COVID-19 in January. Malkin’s regular right-winger is Kasperi Kapanen, who has been steadily improving in the last few games, but recently endured a 20-game goalless drought.
Kapanen’s personal inconsistencies have left Malkin clamouring for a steady winger to augment his ability. Sullivan has slotted Heinen, Kapanen, Evan Rodrigues, Jeff Carter, and Bryan Rust alongside Malkin, almost as if trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. Rakell’s arrival finally gives Malkin and Sullivan a definite second-line winger, which will ultimately improve Malkin and Kapanen’s production. The second line will get regular playing time and a chance to jell as a unit. This consistency, as opposed to the constant shifting that Malkin experienced previously, will ultimately result in all-around improvement.
Penguins’ Powerful First Line Reunites
Just as the lack of a bona fide second-line winger was an issue before the Rakell acquisition, so too was its de facto solution. This is to say that Sullivan’s decision (however temporary it was meant to be) to put Rust on Malkin’s right side resulted in the breakup of the Penguins’ best line, and of what some may believe to be the single best forward line in the league. Rakell’s arrival means that Rust will once again rise to the first line alongside captain Sidney Crosby and the team’s second-leading scorer Jake Guentzel.
Crosby, Guentzel, and Rust are first, second, and fourth, respectively in team scoring, making the first line almost equivalent to any other team’s first power-play unit. Due to the fact that Sullivan had to account for the second line’s troubles, he moved Rust down there for a spell. Breaking up this line was like breaking up the Beatles. The line that helped catapult the Penguins into second in the Metropolitan Division and rattle off multiple double-digit win streaks was no more. Now, its return is nigh. Rakell played his first game in the black and gold on March 22 and immediately made an impact on the Penguins’ stars, as Guentzel scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season, and Crosby and Malkin added three assists and a goal, respectively (From “Penguins Stars Steal the Spotlight As the Team Rolls in Rakell’s Debut” Matt Vensel. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 22/03/2022).
Pressure Taken Off Kapanen
Rakell’s presence in the Penguins’ lineup will also help out another seemingly ill-fated member of the Penguins’ second line (sensing a theme here). Kapanen, having been re-acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Aug. 25, 2020, has had the dictionary definition of an up-and-down season. As mentioned previously, he recently endured a 20-game goalless drought, and his name had been the subject of trade rumours that didn’t pass until deadline day. He’ll be able to capitalize on having Rakell as a linemate, as there will be much less pressure on him to perform to the same level as before. Of course, as a professional, he’ll still be held to a high standard, but he won’t be under as much pressure and scrutiny.
The Penguins’ management team may have seen a single team need and sought to address it. In a direct sense, they’ve done that with the Rakell trade. In an indirect sense, they addressed multiple needs in one transaction. his arrival stabilizes the whole lineup and will allow the team and individual players to play to their strengths as the playoffs near.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.