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Does Rakell Regret Sticking With Penguins?



NHL trade chatter, Pittsburgh Penguins, Rickard Rakell

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rickard Rakell was eligible for unrestricted free agency last summer, able to walk away from the Pittsburgh Penguins and auction himself off to any team interested in signing him.

There figured to be no shortage of those, considering that Rakell was in the prime years of his career and had long since established his credentials as a solid top-six winger.

Unlike some high-profile teammates whose contracts were expiring, he had no particular ties to the region or the franchise, having been acquired from Anaheim less than two months before the New York Rangers ended the Penguins’ season in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But while there surely would have been a nice market for him, Rakell didn’t bother exploring it.

He signed a six-year contract with a $5 million salary-cap hit on July 11, two days before the start of free agency.

Thursday, as he prepared for his first game at Honda Center since the Ducks traded him to the Penguins last March 21 for Zach Aston-Reese, Dom Simon, goaltending prospect Calle Clang and a second-round draft choice, Rakell said he has no misgivings about opting to remain with them.

“No (regrets),” he said after practice. “Not at all. I’m exactly where I want to be. There was a lot of excitement, just coming (to the Penguins) last season and having key players like (Malkin, Kris Letang and Bryan Rust) re-sign.

“At this time, all I want to do is try to win. I think I gave myself my best chance (by re-signing).”

Rakell, who has shuttled between the first and second lines this season, has been with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel on the No. 1 unit lately, and figures to be there when the Penguins meet the Ducks Friday at 10:08 p.m.

He has 18 goals and 15 assists in 50 games, good for fourth place in the team scoring race. Rakell also is working on the top power play, and is tied with Evgeni Malkin for the team lead in man-advantage goals, with eight.

While the Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to secure a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, Anaheim is stranded at the bottom of the Pacific Division, still working through the rebuild that prompted management to part with Rakell in the first place.

Rakell said the 2022-23 edition of the Ducks is “pretty similar” to the one that was here by the time he was dealt at the trade deadline last season.

“Obviously, they lost some big leaders, like (Ryan) Getzlaf and Hampus (Lindholm) and (Josh) Manson,” he said. “They’re a young team, trying to build something up again.”

And he, by choice, remains a member of the oldest team in the NHL, still chasing the championship dream that carried him across the continent last winter.