The new National Hockey League season is underway, and for the Anaheim Ducks, their roster is far from settled.
When the Ducks took to the ice at American Airlines Center in Dallas for their season opener they were without some key pieces. Forward Rickard Rakell and defenseman Hampus Lindholm were still an unsigned restricted free agents, forward Emerson Etem, who had just been claimed off of waivers from Vancouver, missed the opener, while defenseman Jacob Larsson, a junior-aged player, made the opening night roster right out of camp.
Whether it was the fact the Ducks were missing key pieces or they were simply beat by a Dallas club who wanted to win their home opener no matter what, Anaheim fell, 4-2, to start their their early-season five-game road trip that will see them pay visits to the likes of Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders.
In a season that carries so much meaning for Anaheim they can ill-afford to have another poor overall performance in October like the one they had last season.
This is why it’s important General Manager Bob Murray smoothes out the rough edges of his roster and does it soon. The NHL waits for no one and other teams in the Pacific Division are already looking to create distance in the standings.
Murray started to do just that on Friday by announcing that Rakell had been signed to a new six-year deal that carries an annual cap hit of $3.8 million, according to capfriendly.com.
The native of Sweden has played in 165 regular season contests and has tallied 78 points (29-49—78) with an average ice time of 13:55.
Rakell is coming off a season where he set career highs in games played (72), goals (20), assists (23), points (43) and average ice time (16:04). At the age of 23 and after just two full seasons with the big club, the former first round draft selection by the Ducks has become one of their most relied upon secondary scorers behind the elite scorers like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler.
The Rakell contract announcement is coming on the heels of an announcement that forward Emerson Etem has been brought back into the fold by the organization.
The Long Beach native, who was drafted with the 29th overall selection in the 2010 Entry Draft and went on to play in 112 games for the Ducks, makes his return after spending last season playing a combined 58 games between the New York Rangers and Canucks. He totaled 15 points (7-8—15) in that span.
According to a report Friday in the Los Angeles Times, the Ducks were unsure when Etem would join the team, but his return means the return of someone who is familiar with the organization and someone who can help provide depth. His reported cap hit this season is $775,000.
An increasing number of junior prospects are making NHL opening night rosters and it was no different this year in Anaheim. Defenseman Jacob Larsson, who was taken by the Ducks with the 27th overall selection in the 2015 Entry Draft, did not return to his native Sweden but instead stayed with the big club for the season opener. Whether he sticks or not likely not only depends on his play, but the status of Lindholm.
The Swedish defenseman has been missing since the beginning of training camp because he’s still unsigned. It’s been a costly absence for the Ducks, as the 22-year-old has already played in 236 regular season games for Anaheim and has logged 92 points (23-69—92) with a plus-minus of plus-61, an average ice time of 21:04 and a defensive zone-start percentage of 49.3.
In just three full seasons he’s proven himself to be a staple of the Ducks defense, along with fellow young defenseman Sami Vatanen.
Right now many teams have rosters in flux. Junior-eligible players are getting a look in regular season games while some teams are missing key pieces due to injury. But the Ducks roster still has loose ends, and it’s something they’ll need to address if they want to establish themselves as an elite club this season.