Philadelphia Flyer forward Michael Raffl has been one of the unsung heroes of this season.
The 25-year-old Austrian has been rewarded for his efforts with a new two-year deal worth $2.2 million.
Raffl was a name on the bottom of the list for players likely to make the Flyers’ NHL roster during the preseason.
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While playing in preseason games with Philadelphia, it was clear Raffl was having a tough time adjusting to the NHL size ice. He was accustomed to playing in Europe where the rink is much larger.
Raffl was sent down to the Adirondack Phantoms at the start of the season because he didn’t seem ready to compete at the NHL level.
Thanks to a poor start and some much needed changes to the Philadelphia lineup, Raffl was given another opportunity.
He scored his first NHL point on Oct. 26 against the New York Islanders and netted his first NHL goal on Dec. 9 against the Ottawa Senators. Since then he has been a regular in the Philadelphia lineup.
In 57 games played, Raffl has tallied 21 points (12 assists, 9 goals).
Head coach Craig Berube has used him multiple situations, and with multiple line pairings. He has played alongside Matt Read and Sean Couturier, on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and most recently with Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall on the fourth forward line.
At first, Raffl was merely a rotation player trying to earn a spot and relatively unknown to most fans. He made his name playing on the top line in the midst of a Scott Hartnell slump.
Dec. 12 was Raffl’s first time on the top line, and it was a move that benefitted everyone involved. When he moved up, both Giroux and Voracek, who were having down years, began scoring in bunches. The Flyers then began winning game after game becoming one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Raffl played the majority of December and January with the first line before his position was returned to Scott Hartnell.
During the Olympic break, Raffl was one of five Flyers to represent their nation. He is currently one of only three players from Austria on an NHL roster (Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner).
Despite Austria having a below average Olympics, Raffl played admirably on the world stage. Returning to the size ice he has been familiar with his entire life in a new role as one of the team’s top players, he was poised to be a standout star.
He managed two assists and a goal in four games played, which is nothing to look down on. He was definitely not Sochi’s brightest star, but gave a strong showing regardless.
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Since returning to Philadelphia he was demoted to the fourth line, but not for lack of effort or poor play. The Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek line was clicking again, and the pairing of Hall-Rinaldo was missing a strong third piece.
Raffl has done an impressive job of centering that line and has improved their effectiveness as well.
Taking a chance on rookies at Raffl’s age is risky, but with only a $1.1 million cap hit each year, it’s a risk certainly worth taking.
Ville Leino had a similar type of rookie campaign with Philadelphia, but soon became a bust and a waste of money on the Flyers’ money-tight roster. That’s an example of this type of situation going bad.
An example where it worked?
Read has become one of the Flyers top players since joining the team as a 25-year-old. During his rookie campaign he led all rookies in goal scoring. He has steadily improved with each season and is a key piece in holding the team together.
Raffl is not likely to become as good of a player as Read, but he likely won’t be the type of let down Leino was in Philadelphia.
Raffl will likely be an important depth player Berube can play in many different situations for the Flyers in the years to come.
HartnellDown Tracker: Scott currently sits at 230 HartnellDowns for the season.