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Monday, October 4, 2010

Weekend OHL roundup: Rakell making noise in Plymouth

If you say the word "Swede" in the context of the OHL, then hardcore hockey fans will immediately think of Kitchener power forward Gabriel Landeskog.

However, Rickard Rakell is quietly making a name for himself with the rival Plymouth Whalers.

In five games, Rakell has three goals and five points, which is a nice start considering that the native of Sollentuna, Sweden is in just his first season of North American major junior. Rakell is yet one more member of a highly prolific group of imports that is bringing a lot of skill and excitement to the OHL this season.

The Whalers need Rakell's production, too. They are without the services of Tyler Seguin, who is still with the Bruins and that's likely where he'll stay. They got a nice boost in the OHL's first week with the prolific scoring of Alex Aleardi (two hat tricks) the Plymouth native acquired from Belleville who tore it up with seven goals. Although small (and a '92 birthdate passed over last season), Aleardi has speed to burn and is making a name for himself as a player worth taking a flier on in 2011.

But Rakell is also turning heads with his high skill level and opportunistic play. His skating stride isn't all that smooth, but he generates a lot of power with it and so while it may not be pretty, he's able to be anywhere on the ice. He plays a North American-style game already with a willingness to give and take hits to make the play, and he works hard along the walls and down low on the cycle. A tenacious forechecker, he's one of those guys who attracts notice when you watch him because he's active with his stick and creates space for his linemates.

The Whalers are off to a tough start with a 1-3-0-1 record, but you have to think that if Matt Mahalak can get it going a lot better, the team can put the puck in the net. It's keeping it out that's been an issue thus far, with 11 goals allowed over the weekend in losses to Saginaw and Sudbury. Mahalak has really struggled in his first two appearances with Plymouth, allowing nine goals and posting a putrid .719 save percentage. A lot of it has to do with defensive breakdowns and the like, but I don't care what level you're playing at, stopping barely 70% of the shots you face isn't going to get it done. He gave up four goals on 10 shots to the Wolves Saturday night. While I haven't seen all the goals he's given up, I have heard that he's been shaky and appears to lack confidence right now. Until he can shore it up, the Whalers will go with Devils prospect Scott Wedgewood.

The Whalers aren't as poor as their early record indicates, and with a player like Rakell and playmaker Garrett Meurs (four assists in five contests) and even Stefan Noesen (two goals, four points) on the club, you can bet that they will continue to be a widely-viewed team by NHL scouts going forward. Mike Vellucci will get them going, and when he does, they'll make that Western Division race an interesting one.


  1. Rakell actually had two goals against Sudbury. The second goal was attributed to Noesen, but Noesen shot the puck from the slot and Rakell knocked home the rebound.

  2. Also, Wedgewood is the starter and Mahalak is the backup. I've seen Mahalak play several times over the past two years, with Youngstown, with the Whalers in rookie camp, with the Whalers in training camp and against Sudbury and he hasn't ever looked good. Two of his goals against in the Sudbury game came while he had his back to the puck. The kid has a lot of work to do before he's ready to be a starter in the OHL.

    Wedgewood, on the other hand, is one of the best goalies in the OHL. Actually, most writers and scouts I've seen rate Wedgewood as the best goalie in the OHL this season. This time last year though, Wedgewood looked almost as bad as Mahalak does now. So there's time to improve.