“That combo of Getzlaf and Perry is really one to look out for on the ice”
“Yeah but don’t forget Ryan Kesler, he’s really providing the depth at center out there in Anaheim”
Any of that sound familiar? National broadcasters unfailingly recite this script every time the Anaheim Ducks are discussed on their airwaves. They’re not wrong either; Getzlaf and Perry have been their usual dominant selves, and Ryan Kesler has been solid.
In the process though, they massively undersell how valuable Rickard Rakell has been for the Ducks.
Anaheim’s Unsung Hero
There’s no doubt that Getzlaf and Kesler are perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the entire league. Yet no team with serious championship aspirations can thrive in this four-line era without a legitimate third line center.
It’s easy for people like Keith Jones and Mike Milbury to overlook a player like Rickard Rakell. He’s only tallied a measly four goals on the season, and his eleven assists are hardly the stuff of legend.
The final pick of the first round of the 2011 NHL draft, Rakell has actually been a solid scorer at every level of hockey. His final year as a Plymouth Whaler in the OHL saw him score above a point per game clip. In the American Hockey League, he’s nearly managed the same feat, notching 41 points in 48 games.
His box score statistics, as previously noted, have been nowhere near his previous totals. Further investigation paints a much different picture of Rakell, one that portrays him as a player that has a positive impact on play nearly every time he touches the ice.
Rickard “Corsi” Rakell
Rakell has won only 45 percent of his faceoffs this season. As a young center in his first full season, that number is far from surprising. Knowing opponents’ tendencies in different situations is almost more than half the battle in the NHL, and that takes time to develop. The ability might be there, but going against guys who have been doing it for a decade quickly disintegrates the value of that ability.
Despite losing the majority of his faceoffs, Rakell has actually been one of the Ducks’ very best possession players, which sort of adds to the notion that faceoff wins don’t necessarily translate into puck possession.
When he’s on the ice, the Ducks score 52 percent of all goals scored, clearly indicating that he’s not a defensive liability as a 21-year old center. His shot attempt percentages are equally inspiring (a solid 53.7% zone start adjusted), and some of his linemates such as Andrew Cogliano are actually slightly worse possession-wise when taken off of Rakell’s line.
The advanced metrics clearly say he’s an above average third line center. To reduce him to those numbers though, as sparkling as they are, would be selling him short. Watching every minute Rakell has played this season, it’s become obvious to these critical eyes that he has a tremendous hockey sense.
His feel for the game, such as holding on to the puck that crucial extra second before making a play, indicate that the points will come eventually for him. Ducks writers and bloggers continue to debate whether general manager Bob Murray made the right move in letting go Mathieu Perreault. Looking at Rakell’s progression this season, it appears that not only did Murray make the right call, but that the center ice position will continue to be a strength in Anaheim for a long, long time.