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Rakell’s Goal: ‘Come Back a Lot Better Next Year’



Pittsburgh Penguins, Rickard Rakell

Everything in Rickard Rakell’s history suggested the Pittsburgh Penguins could pencil him in for 20 goals in 2023-24.

Probably more, actually.

After all, he was coming off a 28-goal season and had put up as many as 34 with Anaheim earlier in his career. And being projected onto one of the Penguins’ top two lines meant that he’d have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as his center, so he could expect to get plenty of scoring opportunities.

But Rakell finished the season with 15 goals and 22 assists in 70 games, and even dropped out of the top-six on occasion.

“Obviously, (the season) didn’t go as well as I would have liked it to,” Rakell said. “It was an up-and-down season for me, with some injuries at the start, then just not producing at the level I wanted.”

He sat out 12 consecutive games, from Nov. 22-Dec. 16, because of an unspecified injury. While it’s possible that it was the same shoulder issue that prompted Rakell to decline an invitation to play for Sweden in the world championships next month, he actually had failed to get a goal in the 17 games he played before leaving the lineup.

Neither Rakell nor team officials have indicated that he will require surgery during the offseason.

“Right now, (the injuries) are fine,” Rakell said at the team’s Breakup Day. “But at the time, they were difficult.”

Rakell had a brief surge after returning, recording five goals in eight games, but that segued directly into a 15-game stretch during which he failed to score.

Although he did not get a goal in consecutive games after Feb. 27-29, Rakell seemed to jell with Malkin and Michael Bunting during the latter stages of the season. What the Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward combinations will look like in training camp is difficult to predict because there is the potential for so much personnel turnover before then, but Rakell would like to see that unit remain intact.

“These last few weeks have been the most fun I had all year,” he said. “I thought we really connected as a line and played really, really well together. We felt like we were contributing every night.”

Malkin’s line was a significant factor in the 8-1-3 surge that nearly got the Pittsburgh Penguins into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Rakell made it clear that he believes it would have continued to play well in the postseason. At the same time, he recognizes that the team’s run of inspired play came too late in the season.

“There’s a lot of frustration right now,” Rakell said. “It’s both a good and bad feeling that we played so well at the end.”

That desperate bid to get into the playoffs came after Jake Guentzel’s former teammates finally got over the disappointment of seeing him traded to Carolina after Kyle Dubas, the Penguins’ president of hockey operations and GM, determined that the team wasn’t performing well enough to justify keeping Guentzel and risk losing him for nothing as a free agent this summer.

Rakell is among the many who acknowledged being in a funk when it became apparent a Guentzel deal was coming and after it was finalized, as the Penguins went 1-6 over a seven-game span.

“That emotional level (of the trade) affected me too much,” Rakell said. “It is tough when someone like Jake, who has been here for a long time and been so successful and a big part of this team’s success in the past, (departs).”

Penguins players eventually got over Guentzel leaving, and now can move on to a fresh round of challenges. Like what Rakell can do to prove that his 15-goal season was an aberration, not a portent.

“Have a good summer and work on my game,” Rakell said. “Work on my strength and everything I can do to come back a lot better next year.”