Rickard Rakell

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PHT Power Rankings: Bounce-back candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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After looking at the top breakout and regression candidates in our previous offseason PHT Power Rankings, we shift our focus this week to more established players that should be better (and maybe significantly better) than they were a year ago.

Who are among our top-10 bounce-back candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season?

To the rankings!

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. For the majority of NHL players scoring 30 goals in a season would be a huge accomplishment. For Patrik Laine in 2018-19 it was probably a hugee disappointment. He was supposed to challenge Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring crown but never really came close to doing so. His season was made by one 12-game hot streak in November where he scored 18 goals, then managed just 12 goals in the other 70 games thanks mostly to an uncharacteristically low 6 percent shooting percentage in those games. That is a fluke and will not last. He is too good, too talented, and has too good of shot for it continue.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. He missed the first quarter of the season due to an extended contract negotiation and never really had a chance to get rolling once he returned. Despite the poor production, there were a lot of positive signs that indicate he can (and will) bounce back. HIs possession numbers were outstanding and he still generated a fair number of shots, he was just crushed by a 5.6 shooting percentage. A fresh start and a full season will do him well.

3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings. There is really no way to sugarcoat Doughty’s 2018-19 season — it was bad. Maybe it was the result of playing on a terrible Kings team that had nothing going for it. Maybe it was the fact he is inching closer to his 30th birthday and reaching a point where he will inevitably start to slow down. Maybe it was just a down year. It was probably a combination of all three. Whatever the case, he had a miserable year as the Kings were absolutely steamrolled when he was on the ice. He is too good and has too much of a track record for that to happen two years in a row.

4. James Neal, Edmonton Oilers. His days as a 35-or 40-goal scorer are probably done but did his career really fall of a cliff that quickly? Scoring 20-25 goals shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation, and if he manages to do that it will be a nice bounce back season and really help a painfully thin Oilers roster.

[Related: Can James Neal bounce-back after tough year in Calgary?]

5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. The raw numbers point to a strong season offensively, but there weree a lot of flaws to his game in a lot of areas (5-on-5 and defensively, to be specific). He wasn’t *bad* but he can definitely be a lot better and will no doubt be motivated to show he is still one of the elite players in the league. It is a big year for him in Pittsburgh.

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. Quick has always been a polarizing player because he’s never been as good as his loudest supporters think he is or as bad as his loudest critics think he is. He’s a perfectly fine starting goalie that’s had two amazing playoff runs. That’s it. He’s not an all-time great and he’s not bad. He’s just … good. For some reason that is difficult for people to accept. No matter what side of the Quick argument you fall on you should probably be willing to acknowledge he is not going to repeat the .888 save percentage he finished last season with. He is WAY better than that.

7. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. There were a lot of shocking things about the Islanders’ turnaround a year ago. One of the more overlooked storylines is that they were able to make the playoffs despite their best and most important returning player — Barzal — regressing almost entirely across the board. After one of the finest rookie seasons we have seen in years, expectations were through the roof for Barzal in year two. He was good, but probably fell short of what was expected of him.

8. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. Benn’s slower than expected start drew the ire of team CEO Jim Lites even though he was still one of the four or five players on the team that actually produced. Still, it wasn’t the typical Jamie Benn season in Dallas. His 0.68 point per game average was the second lowest of his career (only his rookie season was worse) and a sharp decline from what we are used to seeing from him. The fact that is considered a “down” year is a testament to how good he has been. He is not finished as an elite scorer just yet.

9. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons Rakell was one of the best and most overlooked goal-scorers in the league, scoring at a 37-goal pace per 82 games. He was one of the go-to players for the Ducks offensively and looked to be ready for another huge year this past season. But his down year was one of the many things to go wrong in Anaheim as his offensive production plummeted. A lot of the decline was shooting percentage driven and he should be able to recover from that this season.

10. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. Like Barzal in New York, Keller went through a bit of a sophomore slump for the Coyotes. The good news is he didn’t regress all that much, is still only 21 years old, and has already demonstrated an ability to be a top-line player in the league. If he gets back to the level he was at during his rookie season (or even takes a step forward) it will go a long way toward ending the Coyotes’ playoff drought.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ducks’ Rakell tossed from game after ugly hit from behind

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You’re supposed to let up on a hit if you see the numbers, or avoid it completely. Rickard Rakell didn’t seem to get that memo on Wednesday night.

The Anaheim Ducks forward saw Drake Caggiula‘s No. 91 for a good stretch of time as they both chased down a puck that was dumped in by the latter early in the second period. As they both convened deep in Anaheim’s zone, Caggiula tried to slow up and make a play on the loose puck. Tried, because Rakell didn’t slow up at all, rather he made like a freight train and unloaded on the Blackhawks forward, who was helpless to the cause.

The reverse angle showed Caggiula’s head getting bounced off the glass before he fell to the ice. Caggiula needed to be helped up and helped off the ice, down the tunnel and out of the game.

Rakell, too, needed an escort out of the game as bloodthirsty Blackhawks players tried to seek out revenge. He was given five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct (and perhaps a call from the league’s player safety folks).

The Blackhawks managed to score on the power play but also gave up a shorty to make it a wash.

Caggiula was ruled out of the rest of the game with a concussion.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

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The Anaheim Ducks have really been heating up lately, grabbing six wins in their last seven games. A painfully familiar problem could derail all of that promise, however, as injuries are once again mounting.

The Ducks provided two unfortunate updates on Tuesday:

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Ryan Miller: The superb backup suffered an MCL sprain during Sunday’s wild 6-5 shootout win against the Devils. His recovery window is estimated at six weeks, while they’ll evaluate the veteran goalie once more in two weeks.

As you can note from this breakdown from Anaheim’s five-game winning streak, much of the Ducks’ success came from an impeccable goalie duo of Miller and John Gibson. Gibson is the Vezina-level workhorse, but don’t count out Miller’s contributions. He’s continued a so-far-phenomenal run with the Ducks, managing a .922 save percentage in 10 games this season (with four goals allowed against New Jersey hurting his numbers more than a bit).

Anaheim did get at least one bit of good luck here, relatively speaking. The Ducks were able to pluck an experienced goalie in Chad Johnson off of waivers, as they took him off of the St. Louis Blues’ hands. His former Bengals WR namesake celebrated the occasion:

Johnson’s off to a lousy start in 2018-19 (.884 save percentage in 10 games), and really struggled with the Calgary Flames last season. Even so, his .909 career save percentage is still pretty good for a journeyman backup, especially since the Ducks didn’t need to cough up any assets to give him a try.

None of this makes Miller’s loss good news, yet there’s at least a chance that Johnson could hold down the fort whenever Gibson needs a breather.

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Rickard Rakell: the Ducks didn’t provide a timetable for the winger’s return, labeling his injury as a sprained ankle.

The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that Rakell was wearing a protective boot this weekend:

Despite being out since Dec. 5, Rakell stands as the Ducks’ second-highest scorer (20 points in 30 games), trailing only Ryan Getzlaf.

While that 6-5 shootout win against the Devils shows that Anaheim can fill the net from time to time (pauses for own-goal jokes), they’ve generally been scoring just enough to win lately. With that in mind, Rakell’s injury really stings, especially if Nick Ritchie and Pontus Aberg start to cool off.

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To review, Miller and Rakell join a growing list of injured Ducks. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are recovering from significant issues that required surgeries. Patrick Eaves is also dealing with injury/health issues, and it’s fair to wonder how often Ryan Kesler is truly at full-strength.

At the moment, the Ducks are ranked third in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 32 games, as the Sharks have the same 16-11-5 record but own an edge in ROW (16 to 13). They’ll close their current homestand out on Wednesday, then head out on the road for six straight away games, mostly against Eastern Conference teams:

Wed, Dec. 12: vs. Dallas
Sat, Dec. 15: @ Columbus
Mon, Dec. 17: @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Dec. 18: @ Rangers
Thu, Dec. 20: @ Boston
Sat, Dec. 22: @ Buffalo
Thu, Dec. 27: @ San Jose

It hasn’t always been pretty for the Ducks, but credit them for fighting through injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to keep doing so.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Lightning back in first, Varlamov hurt, Ducks gain ground

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Players of the Night:

Cedric Paquette, Tampa Bay Lightning: Paquette scored twice and added an assist as the Lightning thumped the New York Rangers 7-3 on Friday. Paquette had five shots on goal and the Lightning threw 50 at Ondrej Pavelec to regain first place in the Atlantic Division. Tampa matched its regular-season record for points with 108.

Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche: The duo (but mostly Varlamov) combined for the first combined shutout in Avs history on Friday. Varlamov made 30 saves in 53:31 before he was injured in a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco. Bernier finished the game, making three more saves to complete the blanking.

Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks: Double R scored the OT winner to give the Ducks a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings, putting the Ducks into the first wildcard in the Western Conference, one point back of L.A. The Ducks have a game in-hand on their California counterparts.

Highlights of the Night:

Domingue’d

Hello, Andrighetto:

MacKinnon saves:

Juke and jive:

Rakell’s OT winner was special:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Hurricanes 4, Capitals 1

Maple Leafs 5, Islanders 4

Lightning 7, Rangers 3

Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 0

Ducks 3, King 2 (OT)

Golden Knights 4, Blues 3 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Adam Henrique finding new life on West Coast

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Remember when Adam Henrique scored 30 goals one season?

He does. His fans do. And the Anaheim Ducks would love for that to be a memory of their own in the near future.

The good news Henrique, who was traded to the Ducks from the New Jersey Devils for Sami Vatanen 10 days ago — and all involved for that matter — is that he’s rekindled that penchant for putting pucks past goalies in his new threads.

Henrique scored for the third time in five games on Friday since joining the Ducks and now has six points in that span. That puts him one goal shy of the four he scored in the first 24 games of the season with the Devils. Prior to joining the Ducks, Henrique had one goal in his previous 15 games.

Evidently, the change of pace has helped.

(Perhaps Matt Duchene in Ottawa should take a few notes.)

Indeed, Henrique, 27, has found new life on a line with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell. The battered Ducks envisioned some adding scoring when they slotted Henrique on the top line in Anaheim and he’s since delivered.

The move has had added benefits as well, including getting Perry going.

Perry has missed a playmaker like Ryan Getzlaf in the middle. Getzlaf has been limited to six games this season due to two separate injuries.

Perry has found some good chemistry with Henrique, managing to score twice in as many games last week, with Henrique playing a part in both tallies. Perry has also returned the favour, assisting on two of Henrique’s three markers.

It’s a good sign for the Ducks, who might be getting healthy soon to boot.

God knows they need it. Even with the offensive boost, the Ducks have still only managed two wins out of their past 10 games.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck