Perhaps it was inevitable that winger Rickard Rakell would be traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He revealed Wednesday that he has a dog who already had a name when adopted – Heinz, named after the stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers play.
Or perhaps the recent trade, when Rakell was acquired from Anaheim for wingers Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon, a second-round draft pick and prospect goaltender Calle Clang, was simply good business as the Penguins needed a winger to add to the second line centered by Evgeni Malkin and balance up and down the lineup.
That’s where Rakell has played, and beginning as soon as Thursday the full expected trio with Jason Zucker could get their first game together. Those three skated together at practice Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and Zucker could return from core muscle surgery as soon as Thursday at Minnesota.
Playing with a dynamic talent such as Malkin isn’t necessarily easy.
“I’m starting to learn where he is on the ice and where we can combine our strengths,” said Rakell, 28, who has a goal and two assists in five games with the Penguins. Malkin missed one of those games because of illness.
“I’m excited,” Rakell said. “I think it’s a lot of fun. And I think it’s going to get better.”
Rakell has been playing mostly the left side, with Bryan Rust occupying the right wing on that line. But during Tuesday’s 3-2 loss against the New York Rangers and again Wednesday, Rust was returned to the top line. Rakell, a right-handed shot, was on the right side at practice.
“I don’t think it matters to me which side,” he said.
If Rakell is wide-eyed about joining a team with generational talents such as Malkin and Sidney Crosby, he didn’t let on. But he does appreciate the sharing a locker room with them.
“They’ve been two players who have been great in this league for such a long time,” Rakell said. “They were both idols of mine growing up. So it’s so much fun for me to learn from them and watch the small things they’re doing on the ice to try to help my game get better.”
It should be noted that his idols are only six and seven years older than him, but that would have made him a teenager in his native Sweden as Crosby and Malkin were winning the first of their three Stanley Cups together in 2009 and solidifying their stardom.
Coach Mike Sullivan has said that Rakell, at least initially, was not overloaded with information about the Penguins’ systems. He’s been playing on instincts and learning as he goes.
“It’s pretty different (from Anaheim), but I think at the same time the way hockey’s played here fits my game really well,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn more and more every day.”