PITTSBURGH – Quick… who is the only current Flyers forward to have played on all four lines this season?
I’m certain the first name to jump into your head was not Michael Raffl. And yet, he’s the answer.
Adding to his versatility resume, Raffl has also played on the power play and on the penalty kill.
Having him on the roster was one of the reasons Max Talbot became moveable in a trade for a better offensive player – because Raffl was versatile enough to do some of the things Talbot was doing for the Flyers.
And frankly, his play has been a bit surprising to everyone around the organization.
The Flyers were touting him as a scoring winger who could maybe come in, provide a bolt of offense, but who wasn’t as well-versed in the North American style of the game where playing defense was equally as important.
So, it was expected that Raffl would come in, provide secondary scoring and not much else, and be one of those tweener types bouncing from the NHL to the AHL and back.
And while that still could be the case – especially since Raffl has played in just 11 games – it’s interesting to point out that while other players have gone up and down between the Flyers and their AHL affiliate, Raffl has remained ever since being recalled a month ago.
And while other players have sat out of the lineup, depending on the matchups, Raffl has remained a regular.
He has been able to keep a job by playing a strong two-way game. He has taken on the responsibility of being a more responsible forward who hustles to get back, who plays fearlessly, isn’t afraid of the physical contact, and has an air of confidence about him that belies his experience in the NHL.
Because Raffl was hit hard with a stomach virus last weekend and had not been able to skate since.
“It was terrible,” he told me Tuesday night in Ottawa, the first game he missed this season. “I couldn’t keep any food down. Everything I tried to eat would come right back up.”
Three days of that is enough to make you surrender for a few more days in an effort to get well.
Not Raffl. Tuesday was the first day he was able to eat anything and keep it down, So naturally, he was skating less than 24 hours later.
“It was a bit harder for me since I hadn’t skated in a few days and I didn’t feel well before,” Raffl said afterward. “But, I definitely feel better from the virus. I just need skate a couple days to get back into it.”
As such, Raffl will be a scratch again tonight, but don’t consider him a healthy scratch.
“We have tough lineup decisions every night,” coach Craig Berube said. “But he’s out because he was sick and had not skated. He’s not a healthy scratch [in the true sense of the word].”
Berube wanted to point out just how much Raffl has impressed him in his 11-game stint so far. Sure there are still things to work on. He needs to finish his scoring chances when he gets them – and he’s had a few. And even though he’s a plus-skater, he can still get even quicker, which is more of a mental challenge than a physical one as he learns how to think plays in the NHL. That said, his well-rounded game is something the coach definitely likes to rave about.
“His skills aren’t honed in enough as an NHL scorer just yet,” Berube said. “He’s got a good shot but he needs to hit the net more and get to the net a little bit more. He’s working on that, but the other part of his game is really good. He’s very good without the puck. Whether it’s killing penalties or having a good stick – getting it in lanes and being in the right spot. He’s tough along the walls and he’s good in breakouts.”
Of course, none of that really came with the scouting report, or if it did, it wasn’t expected right away. And yet, Raffl has stepped in and provided that needed work-boots mentality to help the Flyers.
“He’s been coached well as a player to do this stuff without the puck,” Berube said. “His wall-work is what’s really impressive. Coming into the NHL, some guys aren’t ready for how aggressive teams are all the time. They’re really on you in a hurry. Raffl has the composure to make little plays that work. That’s what’s been really impressive about him.”
The best thing about Raffl, from a Flyers perspective, is he knows it too. He knows he has to adapt and play differently than before if he wants to stay in the NHL.
“When I was playing in Austria I was definitely just an offensive player,” Raffl said. “But when I got to Sweden I learned quickly that I had to change my game and play differently. I wanted to be a more complete and better player, so I worked with the coaches there on that. I had some good coaches there who helped me a lot.
“Now I take that and I want to help the team win somehow, because that’s what it’s all about. If you are a goal scorer and you are not scoring goals, then you are not helping the team. So, I have to do something to help the team to win.”
Raffl has not scored a goal yet this season. He has just one assist. And while he knows that he is doing the other things well – and getting credit for it from his coaches – he still thinks he will start posting better offensive numbers when he gets back in the lineup.
“I’ve had my chances on offense,” he said. “They put me on some really good lines and I had a chance to show off my offense and I didn’t really click. I couldn’t score. But, I want to play here. I want to make a career here. So, I will do whatever I can and play whatever role is necessary to stay here and help the team win too.”
Raffl said he’s not worried about the offensive drought on his end because this isn’t the first time he’s gone without scoring.
“When you get scoring chances and you don’t score, you shouldn’t be rattled,” Raffl said. “You should only start worrying if you are not getting scoring chances period. I think I did all right so far. It’s going to come. It’s only been 11 games. I’ve had longer streaks in my career without goals so I know how to handle it. It’s going to go in that’s for sure.”
NOTES: Ray Emery gets the start in goal tonight against the Penguins ahead of Steve Mason. It’s a bit of a surprise move by Berube. Everyone expected the Flyers to split the back-to-back games between Mason and Emery, but they assumed it would be reverse – especially with Emery having a history in Ottawa and Mason having played so well against the Penguins the last time out. Emery is just 4-4-2, 2.95, .885 in 10 career starts against Pittsburgh, but Mason has never been a superior goalie on the second day of games played on consecutive nights. In 29 games he is 10-14-4 with an .881 save percentage, allowing 91 goals in those 29 games, or an average of 3.14 in each game.
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