Player: Rickard Rakell
Born: May 5, 1993 (Age 30 currently, though 2022-23 was his age-29 season)
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 195 pounds
Hometown: Sundbyberg, Sweden
Draft: 2011, first round (30th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks
2022-23 Statistics: 82 games played, 28 goals, 32 assists = 60 points
Contract Status: Rakell finished the first season of a six year deal that will keep him with the Pens through 2027-28 and carry an annual average value (AAV, cap hit) of $5.0 million
Fun fact: Rakell accomplished the feat of playing all 82 games for the first time in his 11 year NHL career, marking one of the few times a player has come to the Penguins and gotten healthier
Hidden Stat: The Pens played in a tied-for-NHL-low two shootouts this season. Rakell went 2/2 and led the team in shootout goals this season.
History: 2021-22 Pensburgh Season in Review: 64% B Grade, 28% A Grade
Rakell was as consistent as the season was long- he played every game and never went more than three straight games without recording a point. Overall there weren’t high fluctuations per month in extreme hot/cold shooting percentages. Rakell started the season a bit slow — scoring “only” 5G+1A in the first 12 games of the season through November 5th, then went on to produce 54 points (23G+31A) in the remaining 70 games of the campaign.
Story of the Season
Finally finding and bringing Rakell into the fold helps secure one of the mythical “winger for Sid and Geno” figures that the Pens have been trying to keep in stock with enough supply over the last 17 years. So whatever you say about Ron Hextall, give him credit for bringing a perfect complimentary piece to feed into the top-six in Rakell.
Rakell’s strengths are comprised of a long list of doing just about everything well. His skating is good. He can score from the front of the net tipping pucks or pouncing on rebounds. His shot is good enough to be dangerous from distance. He can see the ice and move the puck well with solid playmaking. At just about every offensive skill, Rakell might not have any totally elite qualities but he’s just so darn well-rounded at everything that the quality does shine through because he’s strong at almost everything that has to do with offensive hockey.
As such, and as you’ll see below, that made Rakell a man in demand. He was flipped and flopped from the Jake Guentzel/Sidney Crosby line to the Jason Zucker/Evgeni Malkin line. And almost always, the line that Rakell was playing on tended to the the Penguins’ best line. It’s a very high compliment to Rakell’s game that he was counted on to “fix” lines, and did just that.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 16 forwards on the team who qualified byplaying a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 53.7% (5th)
Goals For%: 53.0% (6th)
xGF%: 55.4% (7th)
Scoring Chance %: 55.0% (4th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 56.0% (8th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 8.87% (2nd)
On-ice save%: .919% (7th)
Goals/60: 0.80 (t-4th)
Assist/60: 0.95 (6th)
Points/60: 1.75 (7th)
—If you’re really nitpicking, it would be nice to see Rakell’s assist rates improve a bit and get over 1 per-hour to help get him up towards 2 points-per-hour. That said, Mike Sullivan doesn’t typically play very many wingers 18+ minutes per game, so he needs to lean on Rakell regardless of rates for the quantity of total scoring.
Other than a brief stint to see if Rakell could super-charge Mikael Granlund and Drew O’Connor, you can see the clear switches from the Crosby line (gray/lavender) to the Malkin line (green/brown) in the top chart. Other than a mid-season swoon from about Games 30-50 in the bottom graph, the expected goals were extremely favorable for Rakell.
Rakell ostensibly likes to play right wing when he deals with left handed centers, as he does now with the Penguins. But as seen on the shot chart, he is not confined to one area of the ice. The ability to get to the middle and front is a dream come true for the Pens to add a player with good hands and scoring ability.
HOWEVA, the Pens had finishing problems this season- and believe it or not Rakell was one player who contributed to their expected goal deficit. Playing with Malkin and especially Crosby means getting fed a lot of scoring chances, which add up quickly. The above is vs. goalie (so doesn’t count his one ENG on the season) and shows Rakell might have gotten a few more with better finishing or luck.
Given his age (now 30), Rakell will be interesting to see how or if he can buck a decline in the short term. His finishing did revive a bit from the end of his Anaheim days, which is a hopeful sign that he could be a productive player into his early 30’s. But finishing and setting are dropping off a bit in recent times and something to at least keep an eye on.
But, for now, the worries about time will have to wait, because the Pens are kickin’ some serious ass with Rakell on the ice. Look at the left and then back up a few charts at his shot selection. Red hot everywhere that Rakell tends to work, and it led to over half an expected goal per hour as a result.
Rakell’s shaking the Anaheim stink off his three-year sample and settling into being a fairly consistent 70-75% WAR and GSVA player across the league. The above ties into today’s theme: Rakell is a very consistent player, he’s above average offensively but going to give a bit back with lack of defensive inputs but still produces enough to be a net positive. He’s just a stable, steady, productive supporting player.
At this point in his career, Rakell isn’t going to be a player that gets a lot of breakaways or really do to much in the neutral zone at all with his exits or entries. Which is another reason why playing with Crosby or Malkin is such a great fit for him, they can do the heavy lifting and get it into the zone. And then Rakell can do what he does best: shoot the puck and generate chances from in-zone offense. He’s ideal on the receiving end of the plays that high-end centers can create.
Malkin’s shot broke the leg of Joel Eriksson Ek at the beginning of this sequence, days before the start of the playoffs. That put Minnesota’s season on the brink before they even got there.
Crosby to Rakell for the double-milestone goal! pic.twitter.com/7vIMV6hRkY— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 17, 2023
For Crosby this assist ensured he would finish at above a point/game in the season. For Rakell, it was career point No. 400.
Here's another look at Rickard Rakell's goal, which was his 50th point of the season.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 21, 2023
He has now hit the 50-point milestone for the third time in his career. pic.twitter.com/FGL8Iq3nRk
WE WILL, WE WILL RAK YOU!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 2, 2022
And can we talk about that play by Geno!?
The Penguins just scored three goals in 1:54 pic.twitter.com/iTM2KuS5wm
That's another point for Rickard Rakell.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 25, 2022
Tristan Jarry is officially on the scoresheet.
And Sidney Crosby is doing Sidney Crosby things. pic.twitter.com/SnReW9HoXn
Two points for Rakell.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 13, 2022
Two points for Zucker.
Two goals for the Penguins. pic.twitter.com/IsNqD3xQIl
Individually speaking, Rakell’s first full season in Pittsburgh went as well as could be reasonably expected. Played every game. Hit 60 points. (Almost) 30 goals. Fitting in well all over the ice, wherever he was placed.
Looks like a lot like the year that went by. Maybe you’d like to see Rakell settle in with Crosby or Malkin full-time and really build on the chemistry there. Rakell could stand to finish a bit more, though it also is a big ask and something of a champagne problem to wish for more out of a player generating 31 goals to “only” score 27 without a goalie, and certainly could be worse.
How would you grade Rickard Rakell’s 2022-23 season?
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