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Ducks' Rickard Rakell on pace for 37-goal season

Ducks' Rickard Rakell on pace for 37-goal season
Ducks forward Rickard Rakell, shown scoring an overtime goal against the Lightning on Jan. 17, prefers to play center but has thrived at left wing. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Sidney Crosby. Rickard Rakell.

The names are not immediately linked in hockey conversations, but they are next to each other as the NHL's leaders in goals-per-game average this season. Crosby, regarded as the game's best all-around player, was tops at 0.73 per game through Tuesday. Rakell is second at 0.53.

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To be in that company?

"That's pretty insane," Rakell said. "But I'll take it. I'm just going to roll with it."

Rakell has rolled since he joined the Ducks late, in November, after he signed a six-year contract. His 19th goal was in his 36th game. He will soon break his career-high of 20 goals and is on pace for 37.

That would give the Ducks their first 30-plus goal scorer not named Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf since Bobby Ryan in the 2011-12 season. And it's not shocking that the former two names are a big part of Rakell's breakout season.

Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle prefers Rakell to play center, but Rakell has thrived at left wing beside the two franchise cornerstone players.

"Obviously you wouldn't expect one guy to score all the goals, but right now Ricky's finding the net," Carlyle said.

Asked if Rakell has a preference, Carlyle gave a joking nod to Rakell's numbers at wing.

"I think there's two things: He wants to play center, but I think he wants to play left wing with Getzlaf and Perry," Carlyle said.

Rakell's hands are no joke. He can dangle the puck and snap it in tight spaces. But Perry said there is gritty work behind Rakell's goals, in going to the net and getting into position.

"The goals he's getting — a lot of them are dirty goals," Perry said. "He has to be in the right place at the right time, and that's what he's doing."

Rakell isn't anywhere near Crosby in terms of household names, but he's no longer under the radar. He didn't downplay the possibility of 30-plus goals but isn't focused on it.

"Yeah, I think anything is possible," Rakell said. "You get scoring a couple of games in a row and you get confidence and you try to feed off that, but I'm not trying to set any goals —  'I have to hit 30.' I'm just trying to play as the game comes. I think it's easier that way. Just keep staying motivated. You don't want to get too far ahead."

(No) Perry in OT

Carlyle had a direct explanation for why he  hasn't always used Perry in overtime this season.

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"Well, the first three times I used him, we got scored on," Carlyle said.

Carlyle got more serious and said it's a matter of personnel groupings, and the Ducks' past two overtime games haven't lasted long enough to send Perry over the boards.

"We've talked about it," Carlyle said. "He's designated for one spot with one person in our lineup, but we haven't gotten to that in our last two games."

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Update: Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore and forward Stefan Noesen were reassigned. Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov will be out through the All-Star break because of a groin injury, the team announced.

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