Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Rickard Rakell's draft stock is pretty much indexed to his potential as a scorer.

The Plymouth Whalers centre was a bit of a Gabriel Landeskog-lite during his first North American season this past year, thriving as a two-way forward with a modicum of scoring touch who kills penalties and outmanoeuvres opponents in puck battles along the boards. That should make Rakell, who filled Landeskog's role as an energy player for Sweden's world junior squad when his good friend and workout buddy went down with a high ankle sprain, a second-round NHL pick. Whether he rises higher hinges on whether a NHL team believes Rakell, who had a statline of 19 goals and 43 points in 49 games during an injury-truncated season in Plymouth, can be a top-six forward. He might be a bit wanting there.

"I see myself as a Jonathan Toews-type of player," says the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Rakell, whom NHL Central Scouting has ranked 30th among North American-based skaters. "I just have to start scoring more. I know I have it in me."

Rakell was on pace for a 25-goal season, very respectable for any OHLer in his age-17 season, before injuries took a toll. Being banged up also cost him a chance for an extended mano-a-mano with Landeskog in the playoffs when Plymouth ousted the higher-seeded Kitchener Rangers, although the two Swedes compete enough in the summer.

"I actually think it's Gabriel Landeskog," Rakell, a native of Sollentuna, Sweden, says when asked to name the teammate who has affected him the most. "Just the competing level that he has. I'm working out with him in the summer now and every workout is like a competition. I'm not able to beat him often, but when I do I celebrate."

Relatively few Swedes come to the Canadian Hockey League as imports. The success of Landeskog, a likely Top 5 pick in the draft, could be a harbinger of others going the same route. It's no different from the NCAA being  a better fit for some Canadians or major junior by being a better fit for some U.S. players.

"I get a lot of questions from guys in Sweden who really want to try playing CHL in the upcoming seasons," Rakell says. "Both myself and Gabriel Landeskog had very good success over here. It's another way up."

1. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make from Sweden to major junior hockey?

"It's a different style with playing on a smaller rink and playing a [more physical] North American style. I think I already had that in me from the start. I was always watching NHL since I was a little kid and that was always my goal. My favourite player has always been in the NHL. It took a little while to adjust, but it was only a matter of time until I could settle down and feel comfortable."

What was like the adjustment like culturally? "I thought there would be more adjustment than there was. I was placed in a really good billet family and they made me feel right at home from the first day. I wasn't homesick at all. It really helped me adjust."

2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?

"I think I'll have to work most on my skating ability, having quick feet. I'm not slow right now but I need to be faster to take better advantage of my smartness."

3. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?

"I try to play that two-way game and always play hard with a good work ethic, be smart out there, score goals ... I can be put in every situation on the ice, power play, penalty kill. I always strive to get better."

4. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?

"Playing in the world juniors was a really big thing for me. I didn't really expect it at the beginning of the season but after a while I started thinking it was not impossible. I'm very proud of that."

5. If there was no hockey, what sport would play?

"Tennis. My dad [Rolle Rakell] is a tennis instructor so I would probably do that."

Previous Plymouth Whalers: Matt Mahalak, Stefan Noesen.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).

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