2011 Draft Class: Rickard Rakell
Plymouth Whalers winger ranks 30th among North American skaters by CSS
It was an opportunity for everyone to learn more and open the door to potential NHL careers through interviews, public exams and so much more.
The North American skater pool is deep with talent from across the world, but Sweden's Rickard Rakell has turned heads following his move to the OHL last season. An impressive showing in Toronto certainly helped bring attention to his top-notch resume.
The Plymouth Whalers rookie completed the 2010-11 season having collected 19 goals and 43 points in only 49 games. Coming overseas has proved challenging for others in the past, but Rakell established immediate success in his new North American home.
"I'm very happy with my year in Plymouth," he said. "Early on I didn't really have any expectations or long-term goals. I only wanted to learn."
That changed later in the season when he saw an opportunity to catch and surpass the rookie totals of Kitchener's Gabriel Landeskog, who recorded 46 points in 61 games during the 2009-10 season.
Perhaps it was a benchmark based on national pride, but Rakell said it was a target intended for fun.
"I missed him by three points," he laughed. "But I played 12 less games than he did. It doesn't bother me.
"I had some part-goals early in the year, like making the team and then trying new things once I was able to get accustomed to the North American style. It's good to look back and see that I exceeded my own expectations."
Personal success came quickly, but as most players would agree, producing as a team has top priority. The Whalers did that, winning a post-season round and, in the process, developing several promising players for next season and beyond. All things considered, Plymouth's future is looking good.
"I think the team had a really good year," Rakell said. "It was great to beat Kitchener in the post-season, but I'm a little disappointed that we didn't beat Owen Sound. The Kitchener series was really tough, so that probably took a toll and wore us down."
Looking to improve as a team and as an individual, Rakell is already determined to develop and create new memories with an even better sophomore season in Michigan.
"I was very happy with my season, as I said, but my main goal for next season is to bring more scoring into my game. I know I have that in me, but sometimes this year I took more of a defensive role for the team.
"I don't want to take my defensive play away, but I do want to be more dynamic on the other side. I want to be the guy that will score the game-winning goal."
Accomplishing that won't be too tough for the 18-year-old. His natural talent has already helped develop a lethal, all encompassing arsenal for the OHL's Whalers.
"I'm a powerful, two-way centreman who has great skill and puck control. I think I make my teammates better and I can be used in all situations, including the power-play and penalty kill. I'm both a passer and a goal-scorer."
Existing attributes aside, Rakell is humble in his approach. He's aware that further improvement is required to make the next level. That process is already underway following an intense 68-game season of work.
"My quickness needs to improve," he said. "I developed a lot this year with my speed, but right now I'm not quick or fast enough to take advantage of my opponents. I think there's going to be a big change in my game when I do that."
Although Rakell is learning the North American style with ease, his love for the NHL is what inspired this seamless growth. Back home in Sweden, he was a student of the game with an unparalleled desire to learn.
"I don't think it was very hard to play the game over here," Rakell explained. "I had always been looking at NHL players and games, rather than the Swedish Elite League. I love the game over here so much that I wouldn't ever want to go back home. If I got a good offer from an elite team [in Sweden], I'd still want to be here.
"I wasn't homesick at all."
That all bodes well, because in three weeks time Rakell will be assigned an NHL club, learning the ropes and hopefully signing a contract to help make his dream a permanent reality sometime soon.
"Obviously I need to get stronger and, most of all, quicker and faster on the ice, but I'll do anything to achieve my dream and play in the NHL next year. I think I'm ready hockey-wise, but I do need to improve my strength.
"I'm very excited," he added. "It's one step closer to my dream. Just to know that I'm going to get the opportunity to be an NHL player is overwhelming. I couldn't be happier."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com