ANAHEIM — The hardest part for Derek Grant was when his teammates were out of sight, and let’s face it, the Ducks have been away a lot this season, playing a road-heavy schedule.
Grant has been limited to 16 games, first missing 10 with an upper-body injury and, more recently, 26 because of a lingering lower-body issue.
“It’s always longer when you’re the one out, as much as I love watching the guys,” Grant said, smiling.
“I hate it. You just want to be around them. When they’re on the road, it drags out. That was frustrating for me because, originally, we thought it was going to be short. And it ended up being quite long.”
Grant returned to action in the Ducks’ 3-2 overtime win against Chicago on Tuesday, logging just over 11 minutes of ice time. The Ducks are 4-0-1 in their past five games, have won seven times in their past 14 games and have picked up a point in two of the other seven games.
“I skated during the break, so it helped me transition a little quicker to the speed of the game,” Grant said.
Coming out of the break and playing back-to-back nights, the Ducks needed the energy and fresh legs from their fourth line Tuesday. Ducks coach Dallas Eakins thought Grant had a positive influence on the game in his return and addressed the bigger picture of his impact.
“Excellent – he could have had the winner in the third period,” Eakins said. “His first shift in the third he rang it off the crossbar.”
Eakins drew a comparison between Grant’s versatility to that of teammate Ryan Strome.
Said Eakins: “We need you to play right wing. ‘OK’. We need you to play left wing. ‘Great, no problem.’ Kill penalties, throw you on the power play in front of the net. ‘Yep, whatever you need.’
“And he’s quietly become a real leader in our room. It’s interesting. You think about who the leaders are in the room. Cam (Fowler) plays 26 minutes a night. He’s a leader. You would never mention his (Grant’s) name. He’s a key component. He’s super respected by his teammates and an extension of the coaching staff, culture and all the things you want our younger group to be (influenced) by.”
Now it’s Rickard Rakell’s turn to come home again – or at least make a visit – when the Pittsburgh Penguins play the Ducks on Friday night at Honda Center. It will be Rakell’s first game back in Anaheim since he was traded in March to Pittsburgh for forwards Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon, goaltender Calle Clang and a 2022 second-round draft pick (Tristan Luneau).
Of late, Rakell has been back on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Rakell has 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 50 games this season. Rakell, who was drafted by the Ducks in 2011, played against his former teammates when Anaheim was in Pittsburgh on Jan. 16 and had three assists in the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime win.
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University of Minnesota defenseman Jackson LaCombe, drafted by the Ducks in 2019 (No. 39 overall), will be signing with the organization after the completion of his collegiate season, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. LaCombe has 26 points in 28 games with the Gophers and is a teammate of defensemen Ryan Johnson and Brock Faber.
Johnson is the son of Ducks assistant coach Craig Johnson and was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round in 2019. The Kings drafted Faber in the second round in 2020 and traded him this past summer to the Minnesota Wild as part of the Kevin Fiala deal.
PITTSBURGH AT DUCKS
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Honda Center
TV: Bally Sports West