Michael Raffl: Philadelphia’s Most Versatile Forward

Michael Raffl
(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Prior to this season, nobody knew who Michael Raffl was.  A winger playing in the 2nd-tier division of the Allsvenskan for Leksand isn’t someone who should be making an impact at the NHL level.  Yet here we in the 2013-14 NHL season and he’s been one of the pleasant surprises on the Philadelphia Flyers.  His numbers are not astounding.  He has a modest 17 points in 44 games, but his impact has been felt on every line he plays.

He’s been shuffled on every line as the season as progressed.  After playing the majority of the season on the left wing with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, Berube made the move a few games ago to shift him to the 4th line.

“Raffl went down to the fourth line, I think he adds speed there and helps that line out a lot,” Craig Berube said after the 5-0 shutout of the Detroit Red Wings.

Standing 6’0″, Raffl has an average frame, but is nimble on his legs.  He can create chances by beating the opposing defense on speed alone, but Raffl brings much more than just speed alone.

The greatest attributes the Austrian-native possesses is his ability to control the puck and play well along the boards.  In the corners is where Raffl shines.  He’ll go up against much larger opponents and fight tooth and nail for the puck to end up on his stick.  All season long he’s been able to win key battles along the boards to sustain offensive pressure.  His puck control and hard-nosed efforts are a main reason why he’s such a complimentary player on this Flyers team.

I don’t try to hide my views on advanced statistics like Corsi, Fenwick, or any other.  I’m not into advanced stats, as I feel they only have limited use, but you can’t argue Raffl’s impact with certain linemates.

On Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, you are able to see how well a player’s stats improve with the addition of Raffl on a given line by WOWY (With Or Without You).  I asked Charlie O’Connor of Broad Street Hockey for help on this.

Charlie mentioned:

“WOWY basically looks at how a player does with each of his teammates, how he does away from each teammate, and how each teammate does away from him. The reason why I’d suggest that you use this is because from a Corsi standpoint, Raffl makes the vast majority of his teammates much better when he plays with them.”

Claude Giroux was going through a massive slump in the beginning of the season.  With his new contract, he couldn’t even buy a goal if he wanted.  When Michael Raffl stepped in on the wing, Giroux was able to pot his first goal of the season and has been one of the most offensive forwards in the game.  Raffl made the line chemistry work.

In fact, when Giroux played with Raffl his ‘goals for per 20 minutes of play’ were 1.317.  When Raffl was taken off the line, the number dropped to .659.  You can see the positive correlation in Corsi, as well.  With Raffl, Giroux had a Corsi% of 56.3%.  Without him it was 50.6%.

Another advanced (yet simple) statistic used is Points/60.  O’Connor explained:

Points/60 is a more basic stat, and it is dependent upon on-ice shooting percentage, which can be subject to unsustainability. But using this will help to argue against those who don’t think that Raffl scores enough points. He gets almost no PP time so he has to score all of his points at 5v5, and he also doesn’t get nearly as much ice time as the other “scorers” on the team.

Yet he’s scored 15 5v5 points this year in 488:25 minutes, good for a points per sixty minute total of 1.84 points. That’s actually the highest on the team – better than Giroux, Voracek, Read, everybody.

The sample’s still small, so I certainly wouldn’t use that to go and argue that Raffl is an offensive machine or anything. The team is shooting at a 9.2% with him on the ice at 5v5 when the team average is 7.7%, so his percentage will probably normalize as the season continues and his point rates will go down, especially if he spends more time on the 4th line. But for now, he’s scoring a good rate considering his relatively low minutes.

Raffl’s duties have changed, but his impact remains the same.  He’s playing much less minutes now on the 4th line, but he is helping the line move out of the defensive zone to create scoring opportunities.

Michael Raffl was a virtual unknown a year ago.  Since then, he’s developed into a versatile winger.  I’d say the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves a keeper.

Follow Shawn Reznik on Twitter: @ShawnTHW