The Anaheim Ducks struggled out of the gates to start the 2016-17 season, sitting 10th in the Western Conference with a 3-4-2 record through their first nine games including an abysmal 4-0 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
However, the Ducks got a key cog back on offense. Following a few weeks delay, center Rickard Rakell made his much-anticipated return to the lineup in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over divisional foe the Los Angeles Kings. On Oct. 14, Rakell signed a six-year contract extension worth $3.8 million annually, but sat out a couple weeks due to a pending work visa and recovery from surgery to repair scar tissue related to the appendectomy he had at the end of last season.
In the early goings, the Ducks have not found offensive chemistry, have surrendered too many defensive lapses and have run into penalty trouble. Even though the season is still young, Rakell will improve the team’s success at both ends of the ice.
Rakell’s return to the ice makes it harder and scarier for teams to defend against the Ducks.
The Swede provided instant impact in his 2015-16 season debut. In the waning seconds of the opening period, Rakell rocketed a wrister between the legs of Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin and then five-hole of goaltender Peter Budaj. He further demonstrated his creativity on offense when he added assists on second-period goals by Antoine Vermette and Joseph Cramarossa. He finished the night with one goal, three points with a plus-2 rating in 14:50 total ice time.
In his first two full seasons with the Ducks, Rakell has proven his worth as a well-rounded player with a strong two-way game. He possesses strong hockey sense and offensive talent. The 23-year-old forward had a breakout season last year, scoring 20 goals and 43 points with a 2:30 increased average in total ice time in 72 games played.
Rakell has been effective in all three zones with a career 53.2 Corsi For% at even strength, which means his teammates control the puck more with the gifted forward on the ice, according to hockey-reference.com.
It will take time for Rakell to get the timing down and catch up to the game’s speed. In the meantime, the versatile forward will find time on the bottom two units as they have been wide open this season. In his first game back with the Ducks, Rakell centered Vermette and Chris Wagner. And spent quality time on the second power play unit with Vermette, Jakob Silfverberg, Shea Theodore and Kevin Bieksa.
Much of the 2015-16 season he primarily played on the top line wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry or as a second line center. He found chemistry with the captain and earned time on the power play as well. But it’s Nick Ritchie who has budding chemistry on the top line with Getzlaf and Perry thus far this season. However, with Ritchie under evaluation following a hard check on the boards from Kings’ Tom Gilbert Tuesday night, Rakell could slot into the top line.
Rakell’s return deepens the Ducks lineup and gives coach Randy Carlyle plenty of options to shake up his lines. The young Swede provides the spark and force the Ducks needed up top and further strengthens Anaheim down the middle with Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Rakell and Vermette.
While it was too early to panic about the Ducks’ chances of making the playoffs, Rakell’s insertion in the lineup is a big boost to a Ducks team still searching for consistency at both ends of the ice.