Photo courtesey of Rena Laverty/Plymouth Whalers
“[Rakell's] really offensively talented and very defensively responsible. I’m really looking forward to playing with him one day.” - Ducks prospect John Gibson
Spending this season with the Ducks could have exposed Ducks prospect Rickard Rakell to a winning environment, but the extra value of his returning to Plymouth is that he actually gets the chance to be a major part of the success. Because where Rakell was rotating between being a healthy scratch and a fourth-line player with the Ducks, he's going to be a top-six forward and receive major minutes with the Whalers, who, like the Ducks, enter Wednesday comfortably leading their division in points.
The Whalers were already one of the hotter teams in junior hockey, the re-addition of Rakell seems to have made Plymouth a juggernaut. Aided by Rakell's two goals and three assists in his first three games back with Plymouth, the Whalers have run their current winning streak to six straight victories, including dominating 10-2 win over their division's second-place team, the Sarnia Sting.
Most importantly for the Ducks (and Ducks fans), it opens the door for Rakell to have the chance to be a go-to player in a prolonged playoff run this year (his final junior season), which is something he has never had before.
Although Rakell has "championship" experience, having won a silver medal and a gold medal with Team Sweden during the last two World Junior tournaments, he really does not have very much "playoff" experience, seeing as the World Juniors are a short-term tournament where a team can be eliminated with a single loss.
Meanwhile, the playoffs in Canadian junior hockey consist of four playoff rounds and a four-team, Round Robin championship tournament which has many similarities to the format of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Going through this type of playoff run is something that could allow Rakell to have the chance to possibly play in 20-30 high-stakes playoff games. If he stayed with the Ducks all season, he would remain a complimentary player who would have to try to become a regular Duck next season having barely played hockey for the nearly half of the 2012-13 season. Rakell is still at a juncture of his career where he needs to be developing his skills. Sitting on the bench in Anaheim would probably not be the thing for his game, and would not put him in a position to improve his abilities heading into next season.
And given that Rakell was only averaging 8:57 TOI during the four games he played in for Anaheim, he probably would not be much of a factor in how the Ducks finish this season, anyway.
Although a player going from the NHL to juniors might seem like a demotion-or not something the fan of a first place NHL team should care very much about- Rakell having the chance to play out this season with the Plymouth Whalers is something that could play dividends for the Ducks in the near future, and is something that should not be completely ignored.
For any team to develop into a winner, individual members of the organization have to develop into winners, themselves. For Rakell, being in Plymouth this spring gives him a great chance to continue to learn how to win important games in the types of ways he'll have to with the Ducks in the future.
Currently, the Whalers have 11 games left in the regular season, with their playoff run probably beginning just days after the team's regular-season finale on March 17.
Rakell's progress with the Whalers can be followed on Twitter at @PWhalers.