By Aaron Bell
It’s not like the Plymouth Whalers needed the boost – but they sure were happy to get it.
The Whalers were already one of the top teams in the Ontario Hockey League since the Christmas break but when Rickard Rakell came back from the Anaheim Ducks on Valentine’s Day, he took them to a whole new level.
The Whalers have wins in eight of their past 10 games and lead the West Division with a 34-17-5-4 record through 60 games.
Rakell has scored seven times and has 12 assists in six games since his return and has helped the Whalers win all but one of them.
Rakell played four games with the Ducks and said that the experience has already helped him elevate his game.
“It was a great four weeks up there,” Rakell told the Canton Observer & Eccentric. “I learned so much. Just playing those four games, you got to be stronger on the puck and you got to be smarter with the puck. So I think coming back here I’m coming back with a lot of confidence too.
“I’m just going to try to keep playing like this as far as we go this season.”
Obviously the Whalers are happy to have Rakell back in the lineup as they get ready for what should be an extended playoff run.
“Ricky’s come back with a great attitude,” Whalers assistant coach Don Elland said. “He knows what he needs to work on to get to the next level. They told him what he needs to work on. He’s been great. I think in four games he’s plus-11. He’s been just outstanding.”
The Whalers were already a deep offensive team without Rakell in the lineup. Vincent Trochek is among the league’s scoring leaders and will challenge for the scoring title in the closing weeks of the season. Ryan Hartman, Tom Wilson, Matthew Mistele and Garrett Meurs all have at least 20 goals and 50 points this season and veteran Stefan Noesen has 23 goals and 42 points despite playing just 43 games.
“I think we have three or four good lines,” Rakell said. “But really three lines that the other teams, I think they’re going to have a hard time to know what line they’re going to put up against.
“We really have three first lines. If they put up their best line against one of our lines, we have two other lines or three other lines that can score goals.”