Last season wasn’t a bad one for Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl, but he could have done more. He had 13 goals, 9 assists and 22 points in 76 games but sometimes he disappeared during games.
Analyzing Raffl’s Early Season Play
The Flyers have played two games this season and Raffl has played in both of them. In the opening game of the season in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights, he played well. His chemistry with Scott Laughton was apparent, and the two had a few scoring chances. Laughton scored a second-period goal on which Raffl earned an assist. Raffl went from one side of the ice to the other behind the net, did a nice job of protecting the puck and got it back to the point. Radko Gudas took the shot and Laughton got his stick on the puck to deflect it into the net. Raffl did a really nice job of being aggressive and protecting the puck when he had it.
In Colorado Saturday night against the Avalanche, Raffl was not as effective as he was in game one against the Golden Knights. It seemed like he was invisible for most of the game and struggled to really get anything going. He only played 12:48, but a lot of that was due to the injury to winger James van Riemsdyk in the first period. The Flyers were down for most of the game too, so the top line got more ice time as the game went on. Through two games this season, Raffl has just the one assist so far.
Raffl’s Versatility Gives Flyers Options
Raffl can play both right and left wing and can take a faceoff if need be. The Flyers have the luxury moving him up or down the lineup depending on injuries or the play of his teammates. In his rookie season, he played with Claude Giroux, Jakob Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn throughout the year and for the past three seasons, he has been getting third to fourth-line minutes.
On the power play, Raffl can use his big frame and strong hands to stand in the crease and take a beating, waiting for a scoring chance or rebound. If the power play starts to struggle or there are injuries, he should be used on one of the two units. No matter what line Raffl plays on, he has the ability to develop chemistry with his linemates and plays his game well.
Raffl Must Stay Healthy
Raffl has only played one full NHL season in his five-year career because of injuries, and that was during the 2015-16 season. He could be good, but he needs to be on the ice and not watching from the press box. The injuries started during his rookie campaign in 2013-14 and have plagued him throughout his career, whether it’s a minor illness or a major injury that’s kept him out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
In 2013-14, he missed time due to a concussion and an illness. In 2014-15, he got pneumonia and then suffered an ankle injury that cost him six weeks of game action. During the 2015-16 season, he collapsed on the bench but did not miss any games. In 2016-17, he suffered a lower-body injury on Feb. 28 and missed the remainder of the season, and only scored 11 points in the 52 games he did play. Finally, last season he missed two weeks (six games) with another lower body injury.
Raffl on the Penalty Kill
Raffl has always had a rocky relationship with the penalty kill. In some years, he’s barely been used while in others, he has been a regular, like in his rookie season but his playing time decreased the next year. For the next three seasons, he was lucky if he saw a shift during the penalty kill. Raffl saw time as a regular last season on the penalty kill since he saw a little over 81 minutes of ice time on it.
Raffl should be a major player on the penalty kill this year because of his versatility, likely playing with Laughton or Lehtera to start this season. He had two shorthanded points during the preseason, scoring a goal and adding an assist. He can be good defensively and is willing to get into the shooting lanes.
Raffl Needs Consistency in Contract Year
The forward is a free agent at the end of the season, and the Flyers have prospects that can easily replace him in the lineup. Raffl will be moved up and down the lineup because he is a versatile player and injuries are going to happen, but he will need to find a level of consistency that he has been unable to do in the past. He will also need to be smart to avoid injury.
Raffl will be under some pressure to produce but he’s a veteran, so he should be able to handle it. He won’t be under as much pressure as Couturier or Giroux, but all four lines will need to produce to help the team get over the hump that is the first round of the playoffs. When Raffl is at his best, it seems like he is using his body to protect the puck and is involved in all facets of the game. The winger needs to take advantage of his opportunities by scoring some goals or making the right play.