Ducks need Rickard Rakell to take center stage as team opens season without Ryan Kesler

Rickard Rakell was a revelation last season.

Time and again his nifty hands produced highlight-reel goal after highlight-reel goal.

From the top of the faceoff dot. From the slot. Behind the net. The Swede did it all on his way to scoring 33 goals, 10 more than any of his Ducks teammates.

What will the 24-year-old do for an encore?

Transition to center and try to create chances for Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg while also seeking to maintain the torrid pace he set last season.

“Obviously, [my role] changes a little bit, but it could also give me more chances,” said Rakell, who was selected by the Ducks with the 30th pick in the 2011 draft. “If I end up getting put in positions where I have the puck more and creating more plays, it’s going to be more helpful for my own line.

“It doesn’t have to be anything negative about it. It’s just going to give me a little bit different looks.”

After Ryan Kesler, the team’s No. 2 center, underwent hip surgery in June, coach Randy Carlyle came calling. The message: prepare to change positions.

“It’s a fun challenge for me,” said Rakell, who had 18 assists last season. “I see all the centers on my team getting a lot of ice time and a lot of opportunities to play all kinds of different roles. If I can play this role solidly, this can only help me no matter where I play.”

He has played center previously and knows the type of player he wants to be: the kind of center that’s around the puck a lot and “makes something happen every time he’s on the ice.”

Carlyle was impressed with the way Rakell competed against the Kings in the team’s preseason finale.

“He was pretty dynamic in that game, he was around the puck, he created time and space, and he worked well,” Carlyle said. “He played against [Anze] Kopitar all night. It was more of a test and I thought he did very, very well. And another test is opening night. It’s not exhibition. We know that.”

They also know Rakell has a different style than Kesler.

“Raks needs to understand that we need to fill that void [created by Kesler’s absence], but we also have to help out with that,” Cogliano said. “We need to be patient with how we play in our end, we have to come back to the right spots, we have to break out quickly. The less time we can spend [in the defensive end], the better off we’ll be. ...

“Raks is a highly skilled player, he’s a very high-end talent and he can make plays. That’s maybe going to be a difference-maker for us because he’s going to receive a lot of opportunities to score.”

And in the end, that’s what Rakell does best. He produced an exceptional 18.6 shooting percentage last season, and also was responsible defensively at plus-10.

“If we can just keep building off [the preseason] and get a feel for where we are at all times,” Rakell said, “we can make a lot of fun things happen this year.”



When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.

Update: The Ducks open at home for the first time since 2009, part of their longest season-opening homestand (four games) since they entered the NHL in 1993. … They don’t meet the Coyotes again until a New Year’s Eve matinee in Anaheim. … The Ducks are one of two teams, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, to top the 100-point mark in four consecutive seasons.

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