The day after the Ducks’ season-opening loss to the Dallas Stars, Anaheim took care of some important business by signing restricted free agent center Rickard Rakell to a six-year contract extension. But two weeks after signing on the dotted line, Rakell has still yet to make his season debut.
The issues for Rakell have been two-fold.
First, he needed to get a work visa. While waiting to sign a deal with the Ducks, the 23-year-old remained at home in his native Sweden recovering from off-season surgery to repair complications from an appendectomy. Getting a visa took longer than expected, though, and it wasn’t until Wednesday, 12 days after he had inked his six-year deal, that Rakell was finally able to get back onto the ice with teammates for practice.
However, it’s still unclear when exactly Rakell will return to the lineup, because the recovery from his surgery has still left him unable to participate in full-contact practices.
“I’ve been doing some good workouts in the gym,” Rakell told the Orange County Register’s Eric Stephens. “I’m just trying to get as strong as possible and just get my skating legs back.”
The Ducks could really use Rakell right now, too. Though Anaheim romped the Nashville Predators 6-1 on Wednesday evening, their lineup was missing an integral part as captain Ryan Getzlaf watched from the sidelines with an upper-body injury. There’s no timeline on when Getzlaf will be fit to return — he was a game-time decision Wednesday, which gives hope he could be back as soon as Friday night — but the more time he misses, the more evident it is that the Ducks could use Rakell.
Rakell has proven over the course of his two full seasons in Anaheim that he can be an incredibly versatile player, and his talent as a natural center would make him the perfect option for a top-six center during Getzlaf’s absence. That said, an optimal lineup likely wouldn’t see Rakell replacing Getzlaf so much as skating beside him.
For much of the 2015-16 campaign, Rakell was paired up with Getzlaf and Corey Perry to form the Ducks’ top scoring line. It was a unit that was somewhat thrown together and a departure from the usual combinations that saw Getzlaf and Perry paired with a big-bodied power forward, but it paid dividends for Rakell and Anaheim.
Rakell had a breakout season, netting 20 goals and 43 points, and his average ice time jumped by 2:30 per game. Having an additional top-six forward who can contribute would be a boon for Anaheim right now, especially as they fight to get above .500 after four straight losses to start the season.
With Rakell set to return in the near future, though, and Hampus Lindholm on his way back to the Ducks as soon as he has a visa, there’s a chance the Ducks could be pushing for the top of the Pacific Division standings by the middle of November.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Get 10 issues of The Hockey News magazine for just $15.99!