By Thomas Harrington
Despite a bitter end to the season, the Anaheim Ducks had an exciting run and the future is only looking brighter. As I did last summer, I’ll be going through most of the prospects in the Ducks’ farm system. For every single prospect that I wrote about last summer, I’ll be writing a prospect update where I will delve into how they did this past season and if they have stayed at the same level, regressed, or exceeded expectations. For any new prospects the Ducks have acquired this past season, as well as a couple of prospects I didn’t write about last summer, they will get the full prospect profile treatment. However, I will begin the offseason by looking at the Ducks’ players who have graduated from prospect status to full time NHL players.
This past season saw the Ducks’ youth step up and be a major contributor to the success of the team. The Ducks had a number of rookies who were called up and made their NHL debut, including Josh Manson, Stefan Noesen, and Chris Wagner. There were four rookies who graduated to full time NHL players: Emerson Etem, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell, and Jiri Sekac. While it could be argued that both Etem and Vatanen had already graduated before this past season began, because I wrote a prospect profile about both of them last season, I thought that it would make sense to include them in this section this summer.
At the start of the season, the Ducks had three centers on their roster: Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Nate Thompson, but the fourth position was open. The battle for the final spot was initially between Rakell and William Karlsson. Later in the season, however, Devante Smith-Pelly was given a chance after neither Rakell nor Karlsson were able to fully establish themselves with the Ducks.
Through the first two months of the season, Rakell had appeared in 17 games but recorded only three assists. Due to his slow start, the Ducks sent Rakell down to Norfolk on December 2nd. Rakell got the message and in only two games registered four points in the AHL. On December 6th, a combination of injuries and Rakell’s strong play with the Admirals gave the Ducks enough reason to bring him back up to Anaheim. Rakell had two assists in his first two games back with the Ducks and finally scored his first career regular season goal just a few games later against the San Jose Sharks.
Rakell looked like a player who was just waiting to break out and start scoring, and he finally did a couple of weeks after he scored that first goal. On January 11, 2015, on a night when the Ducks were honoring Teemu Selanne by making him the first player in team history to have his number retired, Rakell stole the show and was the star that night. The Ducks never led in the game, but trailed by deficits of 1-0, 3-1, and 4-2 against the Winnipeg Jets. Each time, the Ducks came back and it was because of the play of Rakell. He finished the night with two goals and two assists, including the game tying goal with just over two minutes left in regulation. Rakell also added a goal in the shootout, helping the Ducks win 5-4. His four point night represented the first multi-point game of his career. After that breakout performance, Rakell became a much more consistent scorer and only once went five games without registering a point. He finished the season with nine goals and 31 points. Rakell put up two goals and 11 points on the powerplay, won 46.6% of his face-offs, had a +6 rating, and scored one game winning goal.
After a strong second half of the season, Rakell struggled in the playoffs, along with the rest of the Ducks’ bottom six forwards. He appeared in all 16 playoff games for the Ducks but only scored one point. However, it was a big one, as he scored the gamewinning goal in overtime in Winnipeg in game three of the first round series. Other than the lone goal, his overall performance dropped in the playoffs as his faceoff numbers fell to a 44.8%, and his average ice time dropped by about a minute. Rakell was getting pushed around and was largely ineffective the deeper the Ducks went in the playoffs.
Despite his postseason struggles, Rakell has shown flashes of offensive brilliance. With a dedicated work ethic, there’s no question that he can continue to improve his play next season. Last summer, I said that I expected Rakell to play in 60+ games, and he did that this season by appearing in 71 games. He’s still young and maturing, but he’s shown that he’s good enough to play in the NHL. As long as he stays healthy, I expect him to approach the 80 game mark next season, and put up at least 15 goals. He’s still young and has a lot of room to grow.
The next graduated prospect that I go over will be on Etem.
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