LEFT WING LOCK?
It's looking more and more like Michael Raffl will earn a spot on the Flyers opening night roster
Vinnie Lecavalier knows chemistry, Had it with Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis in winning a Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay. Conversely, multiple times over the course of 14 NHL seasons, Lecavalier has had it trying to work with some guys after sharing their company on just a few shifts.
Some players – even skilled ones - could play together for years and never learn a thing about how to make each other better. Others know each other’s games intimately before the elapsing of their first 20 minutes together, why it is a fallacy that shaking up lines in the middle of a game or even in a playoff series is self-defeating. You never know until you try.
So when Lecavalier says Michael Raffl is “easy to find”, that is not lost on us, never mind it was a fleeting judgment formed from them playing just one exhibition game together. Of course there is a long way to go to determine the rookie Flyer left wing’s grit and endurance, the things that keep you in the NHL after skill gets you there. But one doesn’t have to watch a guy in a Stanley Cup final to make a judgment on how well he sees the ice.
Raffl is a player who goes to the right spots at the right time, his common sense further exemplified by his closing in on a spot of the Flyers opening day roster. As a free agent coming off an impressive World Championships for Austria, he had other offers, one of the most attractive coming from Nashville, but chose Philadelphia.
“Why shouldn’t I go to the team that shows the most interest in me?” Raffl says.
|Michael Raffl (right) impressed the Flyers scouts enough at the World Championships playing for Austria that he's looking at a spot on the opening night roster.|
Guy seems to know where he is going, both on the ice and off, the Flyers already having developed a sense for his providence.
“I think he is going to play,” said Dave Brown, the Director of Pro Scouting, who put in his two cents at the worlds last spring in Stockholm and Helsinki, helping convince GM Paul Holmgren to fork over a modest outlay in the hopes of replacing some of the goals lost to Danny Briere’s amnesty buyout, among other things.
Raffl missed some good scoring chances in the first period against Washington, but was around the puck so much and so clearly knew what to do away from it that the Flyers already have eliminated most of his competition going into the final week of camp.
They checked out Raffl’s checking capabilities on a third line against the Rangers on Tuesday night. But the true statement of organizational intent was pairing him with Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds the previous night against Washington. Raffl may have failed to convert on the scoreboard, but not on the opportunity to make another impression.
“He gets himself in situations to be effective,” said Director of Scouting Chris Pryor, who accompanied Brown to the world tournament. “People in Leksand said he scored a lot of big goals for them.”
Leksand is in Sweden, not Austria. There are a handful of Austrian players in the NHL but the best of them, Tomas Vanek and Micheal Grabner, weren’t discovered in the homeland.
Buffalo’s Vanek, Raffl’s linemate at The World’s, played in a U.S. junior league in the Midwest before being drafted fifth overall out of the University of Minnesota. The Islanders’ Grabner was a 14th overall pick (by Vancouver) after a year in the Western Hockey League with Spokane.
“I can’t tell you exactly what happened that Michael was not drafted,” said Pryor. “But in a lot of cases you have to be at the right tournament and be with the right team to get seen.
“Guys get missed. It happens.”
Indeed, an NHL GM told us Raffl never was brought to his attention by his scouts. The GM sounded a little regretful about that, too. But even in this age of information and comprehensive Central Scouting lists, talents slip through a six-round draft, Matt Read being an example that you don’t have to come from a perennial international also-ran to get overlooked.
Better late than never. Raffl, 24, isn’t crying a Blue Danube about any wasted years, figuring that two seasons playing in Sweden have given him experience, just as his age has added thickness that will come in handy on a 6-0, 195-pound frame.
He seems no stranger to the wall, despite the fact that on the European sheet, it takes an extra two strides to arrive.
“It’s the best players in the world here and the ice is smaller so it makes the game a lot faster,” Raffl said. “It’s harder to get scoring chances.”
He didn’t seem to have that problem during his emergent 2012-13 season, getting 24 goals in a 48-game season that helped to earn his team a promotion to the Swedish elite league. Over here, there is no higher league than the NHL, but the Flyers have some improving to do in it and one more skilled forward certainly would make a difference
“Michael has to make some adjustments on the defensive side,” said Brown. “Sometimes he’ll swing by the play instead of stopping on the puck and that means he turns his back to it.
“But I didn’t think there were a lot of things I saw that were wrong.”
Sinisalo, who scored 199 regular season and 24 playoff goals for the Flyers over nine years after coming to North America at age 23, was by far the organization’s best European free agent signing ever. It was a different -- and more pioneering -- era but Sinisalo is paying it forward and Flyers should only get so lucky again.
There is one more, small, round of cuts to go. Scott Laughton, the 20th overall pick in the 2012 draft, probably would have to be among them for Raffl to be here on October 2 against Toronto. But if not sooner, then later, we will see him with the big club.
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said, asked about his chances. “I just know that it is my dream to play here so I am doing everything I can to make that come true.”