PHILADELPHIA – There was a rangy left wing wearing No. 12 at the first practice session on the first day of training camp Thursday morning.
It may not have been the No. 12 the fans were hoping for, but if the Flyers scouts are correct, this No. 12 could bring a new love affair between player and fan.
Meet Michael Raffl, the sniper winger whom the Flyers signed last May.
Raffl, 24, made his first appearance in a Flyers jersey at that first session and even though it was just one practice, the Flyers like what they see in him.
“Our guys really liked him in the Swedish League,” general manager Paul Holmgren said, and then (Chief Pro Scout) Dave Brown and (Director of Scouting) Chris Pryor followed him around at the World Championships and liked him too.
“He’s a bigger, thick kid with a nose for the puck and he can really shoot. The fact that it’s a one-year deal and it’s an entry-level deal (two way contract) means it’s a no-brainer for us.”
And it should be no secret that the Flyers think he can help the big club right away and that was made known when he practiced on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds on day one.
“We have to see if he can adjust to playing in the smaller rink,” Holmgren said. “He might get bounced around a little bit, but we’ll see.”
However, Pryor thinks Raffl has the game to adapt rather quickly.
“He’s got skill,” Pryor said. “He thinks the game. He’s a versatile guy and can do a lot of different things.
“He’s a good player, who we think can be NHL ready. There’s going to be a learning curve, but he’s got enough in his game to be able to make that adjustment rather quickly.”
Raffl was sought after by several teams, but ultimately it came down to the Flyers and the Nashville Predators.
The Flyers won out, signing Raffl after seeing him play for Austria in the World Championships. He had a standout game against Russia, a team loaded with NHL-caliber talent, scoring a goal and adding an assist.
Raffl said he chose the Flyers because it was the best fit for him.
“I had the feeling that they wanted me the most,” Raffl said. “They kept calling me and stuff. It’s a great organization. There’s a lot of history here you dream to play here. I was kind of in shock to hear it. It had me pumped all summer. I was so happy to hear that.”
Raffl credited a relationship he forged with fellow Austrian Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres uring the World Championships last spring for helping him showcase his talent and be prepared for the NHL – if a team came calling.
“He’s one of the nest players in the world at what he does,” Raffl said. “He helped me a lot. He told be that if I get the chance in the NHL I better [take] it.”
The Flyers hope Raffl can have a similar impact as Damien Brunner did for the Detroit Red Wings.
Brunner, 27, was a first-year NHL player after playing for a decade in Switzerland. In his first season, Brunner finished with 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 44 games.
Raffl was playing for Leskands IF in Leskand, Sweden, which has been a member of the HockeyAllsvenskan, the country’s second-highest professional league.
He led his team with 24 goals and 46 points this past season as the team won the regular season title and as a result earned a promotion to the Swedish Elite League for next season.
There’s no doubt Raffl is a bit of a late bloomer, but he caught the attention of NHL scouts this season in Sweden and capped it with a fine world championship tournament.
Raffl, 6-0, 192, has played seven full seasons in Austria and Sweden, appearing in a total of 312 games. He has 101 goals and 100 assists for 201 career points, along with 305 PIM and a plus-63 rating.
Some believe that the Flyers flirtation with Dan Cleary, which officially ended Thursday when Cleary agreed to a one-year contract in Detroit, may have opened a door for Raffl, however the Flyers likely would have looked to play Raffl anyway if Cleary was on the team.
“We probably had the same questions about Matt Read prior to his first season,” Pryor said. “But, a good player is a good player, if he happens to develop later, so be it. At the end of the day, Raffl’s a young guy who we can add to our other young guys on the roster and improve our team.”
General manager Paul Holmgren said Cleary decided to stay in Detroit because there were able to sign him to a contract for the season, and the Flyers could only really offer a try out contract for now.
“I had a couple conversations with Dan leading up to a couple days ago,” Holmgren said. I knew he wanted to stay in Detroit. He was hanging around there all summer and I’m glad for him that it worked out.”
Holmgren did add that salary cap constraints though were probably the biggest reason Cleary is not a Flyer right now and that if they weren’t up against the cap, there may have been a different outcome.
“Probably yeah, it would have given us a better shot for sure,” Holmgren said.
With Cleary choosing to stay in Detroit, the biggest winner in camp for the Flyers could be Tye McGinn, who could earn that left wing spot with another impressive camp.
One thing that is for certain is the Flyers will not be knocking on Simon Gagne’s door anytime soon.
“We kind of closed that off a few days ago when we decided to make a commitment to Dan,” Holmgren said. “And now I think we’ll stick with what we got.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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