Rickard Rakell has earned his spot on the front line

Rickard Rakell has earned his spot on the front line

Rickard Rakell has earned his spot on the front line

Ron Hextall has been far from perfect in his first two years as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and there have been some major missteps thus far.

But one move that has been successful so far has been the addition of Rickard Rakell, and his presence on the front line alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel has been a big difference for the Penguins since their arrival.

It should stay there.

It’s working

it has worked

Don’t do it until it stops working.

When the Penguins traded for Rakell, I saw an intriguing player who was a bit of a wild card because his recent run with the Anaheim Ducks had been so successful. When he first arrived with the Ducks, he was one of the most underrated and overlooked scorers in the league, and a legitimate 30-goal threat over three seasons. And then his production went in the tank. Was it the talent around him that was holding him back? Was it something with his game? Just a bit of bad luck? Did he simply need a new environment? Tired of my hypothetical questions?

At the start of the 2021-22 season he started to show some signs of recovery and returned to a 20+ goal pace. Considering how little the Penguins paid to acquire him, it at least seemed like a worthwhile gamble. Perhaps this resurgence would continue? And if he didn’t, it only cost them a couple of fourth rounds, a pick and a couple of weeks of the season.

But what immediately struck me about Rakell was how talented she actually is. Not just from a goals standpoint, either. He can make plays, he can pass, he can make complicated plays in the offensive zone look simple, and he is an extremely skilled forward. He also seemed to have an immediate connection with Crosby and Guentzel on the front line, which he absolutely dominated late in the regular season.

It’s a shame two of them ended up getting injured in the playoffs.

Of the Penguins’ pending free agents this offseason, Rakell was one that wasn’t even on the radar to return because he appeared to be a pure rental. Instead, the Penguins surprised everyone by signing him to a long-term deal. Risky, given his age and inconsistent production in recent years? No doubt. But at this point I’m taking the same approach with Rakell as I am with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. In four or five years, the team will probably stink anyway, so if you can maximize your chances of competing and winning for the next two or three years, go for it and do whatever it takes.

So far, I’m impressed with Rakell, and every line he’s a part of seems to get better and more productive. Especially the top line.

Despite their success, including earlier this season, the Penguins still decided to shake things up and put Rakell with Malkin and Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust back on the front line with Crosby and Guentzel. While Malkin, Zucker and Rakell continued to excel, the top line struggled mightily with Rust.

Until the penguins returned to the original lineup.

It was at that point that everything began to change for both the Crosby line and the Penguins as a team.

Individually, Rakell has scored at a pace of 25 goals and 55 points with the Penguins, which is absolutely one of the top six sides.

But what really stands out is how well this trio has performed with Crosby and Guentzel.

Going back to the end of the 2021-22 regular season, the Crosby-Guentzel-Rakell line has played over 178 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together and has been downright dominant. They own over 54 percent of shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances and expected goals, while holding an incredible 17-4 goal advantage. They also average 5.74 goals per 60 minutes. Since the start of last season, Crosby and Guentzel have averaged 2.94 goals per 60 minutes with a different end than Rakell on their line in over 940 minutes of hockey.

There’s no need to break up that trio, especially since Malkin and Zucker have been able to produce with Rust in their lineup. It has given them two strong goal lines.

Not only has Rakell been great on the front line in 5v5 and earned continued looks there, I want to see what he can do on the top power play instead of Rust. This unit needs a spark and a lift, and given the way Rakell has lifted the top line, it’s worth seeing if he can do the same for Crosby, Guentzel, Malkin and Letang on the power play.

#Rickard #Rakell #earned #spot #front #line

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