1:16 p.m.: Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review relays that Rakell and Ruhwedel have been placed on injured reserve.
12:43 p.m.: Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan issued multiple injury updates Tuesday morning, the most pressing being that forward Rickard Rakell is out “longer-term” with an upper-body injury. Sullivan also relayed that defenseman Chad Ruhwedel is sidelined week-to-week with a lower-body injury. At the same time, winger Bryan Rust missed practice today to be evaluated for a lower-body injury.
It’s unclear when Rakell sustained the injury, but if his performance is any indication, he’s been playing through it for a while. The Swedish winger has struggled mightily this season, posting just four assists through 17 games despite playing top-six minutes, frequently alongside Evgeni Malkin on the team’s second line. Rakell has been somewhat inconsistent throughout his 668-game NHL career, but a dry spell like this is quite rare for him – especially after hitting the 60-point mark last season for the second time in his career.
The Penguins acquired Rakell from the Ducks in a March 2022 trade, giving up a rather significant haul of depth forwards Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese, high-end goalie prospect Calle Clang, and a 2022 second-round pick that the Ducks used on defenseman Tristan Luneau, who managed to crack Anaheim’s roster out of camp just one season post-draft. After impressing with 13 points in 19 games down the stretch for the Penguins in 2021-22, then-GM Ron Hextall inked him to a six-year, $30MM deal with a $5MM cap hit. Rakell’s production as a Penguin has largely been worth the contract – 32 goals, 45 assists and 77 points in 118 games – but the team hopes his recent dry spell isn’t a sign of things to come for the life of the deal.
It is worth noting that despite Rakell’s lack of goal-scoring, his possession numbers have been strong. His -2 rating is a testament to his lack of offense, not defense – his 56.6% Corsi share at even strength is third among Penguins forwards behind Sidney Crosby and Radim Zohorna.
Ruhwedel has been a member of the Penguins organization since signing during free agency in 2016, and he’s remained a valuable depth option at the bottom of their defensive lineup. A nagging injury to Pierre-Olivier Joseph has meant extended playing time for Ruhwedel this season, and he’s been a healthy scratch just twice throughout their 17-game schedule. The 33-year-old is in the final season of a two-year, $1.6MM deal and has one assist and a -3 rating.
His absence leaves the Penguins with only five healthy defensemen on the active roster and will necessitate a roster move, which will likely be activating defenseman John Ludvig off LTIR. The early-season waiver claim sustained a concussion in his first NHL appearance against the Stars on October 24 but has been on a conditioning loan to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton since last Thursday, making two appearances and recording a shot on goal. Multiple reports indicate Ludvig was on the ice for practice Tuesday morning and will likely return to the Penguins’ lineup Wednesday against the Rangers.
Sullivan did not issue any timeline on Rust’s injury, which likely occurred during game action against the Golden Knights on Sunday. He did not leave the game, however. The 31-year-old has seen top-line duties alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel this season and is amidst a rebound year, posting nine goals and 16 points through 17 contests after scoring 46 points in 81 games last season.
Missing both Rakell and Rust will create a domino effect throughout the Penguins’ forward lineup, an unfortunate blow for a team that’s 6-4-0 in their last ten games after a lagging start to the season. Sullivan told reporters today, including Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that Jansen Harkins, Vinnie Hinostroza and Alexander Nylander will be in discussions to ride shotgun with Crosby and Malkin in Rakell’s and Rust’s absences. Only Hinostroza, who is day-to-day himself with a lower-body injury, is currently on the active roster. Harkins and Nylander are currently on assignment to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the team would need to place Rakell and/or Rust on LTIR to accommodate a recall.