After a trade deadline that saw more players move than ever, the Pittsburgh Penguins were no exception. Penguins general manager (GM) Ron Hextall made it clear that he was in the market for a forward, and they snagged a formidable winger in Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell.
Out of the seemingly deep pool of forwards available, Rakell makes sense for the Penguins. Before the trade, the 28-year-old left-winger was in his tenth NHL season in Anaheim, where he has spent his entire career and scored 339 points (154 goals, 185 assists).
The Penguins have endured a period of hardship among their wingers, including Kasperi Kapanen, whose level of offensive contribution has been below expectations as well as the injury-plagued Jason Zucker, and Rakell should help boost production.
Rakell Will Fill Much-Needed Gap
Leading up to the deadline, the Penguins’ offensive core was one of if not the most important issue Hextall wished to address. The single acquisition of Rakell provides the coaching staff with more options in building a championship team from the front end. According to the Daily Faceoff’s line combination tracker, Rakell will fill the left-wing role on a powerful third line with Kapanen and Jeff Carter. Considering Rakell’s production was directly affected by the Ducks’ recent failure to score, his new position with the Penguins should bolster his play as well as allow him to make sound contributions.
Sitting comfortably in the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins are five points ahead of the Washington Capitals. However, the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference makes the path to the Stanley Cup Final seem as daunting as ever. Nonetheless, Rakell’s impact on this Penguins team should be outstanding. Now, with Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon in Anaheim, Rakell will be an upgrade to the Penguins’ depth in one of those wing slots, making the team that much harder to eliminate.
The Penguins also sent goaltender Calle Clang and a 2022 second-round draft pick to the Ducks. Anaheim had already shipped off longtime defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Boston Bruins over the weekend, and perhaps slipping out of playoff contention was a factor in Ducks GM Pat Verbeek’s decision to make multiple franchise-shifting moves.
Why the Penguins Chose Rakell
Before the deadline, the trade market for forwards was extremely dense. The list of notable players expected to be moved included Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, and Max Domi. There was even talk that the Penguins were interested in Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser, although that failed to pan out.
However, Pittsburgh managed to acquire Rakell while navigating the salary cap. Perhaps, Hextall could only afford Rakell, considering he got rid of two important role players to do so (from ‘Penguins trade for Rickard Rakell is more important than Ron Hextall is letting on’, Tribune-Review, 2022). The organization values their core assets, and Hextall stated that they weren’t pressed to pursue any additions that may not have “fit” on the roster.
Hextall’s goal for the trade deadline was to pick up offense upfront. From a large pool of talented and well-established players on the block, Rakell stood out. His lightning-quick hands and stellar skating skills are sure to make an immediate impact.
With 28 points (16 goals, 12 assists) on the season, Rakell made his Penguins debut on Tuesday in their 6-1 blowout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. His play spoke for itself; he was engaged in board battles and forced pucks deep into the offensive zone. He also registered two shots on goal and generated multiple scoring chances. This should be just the beginning for Rakell in Pittsburgh.
Hello! I’m Aaron, a newer member of THW’s Penguins writing team. I hail from Richmond, Virginia, a place with seemingly no hockey involvement. I’m currently at the end of pursuing my BA in Communications and hope to enter into the hockey media industry. #LetsGoPens