Things just got a lot more interesting for Michael Raffl.
The 24-year-old Austrian left wing arrived in Philadelphia to take part in this week’s training camp knowing the Flyers’ front office was high on him and very well aware that he has reached a career crossroads.
But with the news Thursday that Dan Cleary would no longer be attending camp on a professional tryout (see story), Raffl’s chances of jumping from Sweden’s second-tier hockey league to the NHL just got a little bit better.
“I don’t think too much about that,” Raffl said following his first on-ice session of training camp. “I try to keep my focus on what I’m doing on the ice, try my best, and at the end of the day, you end up where you end up. I’m doing my best to get the job done.”
The Flyers signed Raffl back in May after director of scouting Chris Pryor and head scout Dave Brown followed him around Sweden and watched him play in the IIHF World Championships.
They liked a lot of what they saw.
“He’s a bigger, thick kid,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “He’s got a real nose for the net, he’s good with the puck and he can really shoot. [We signed him to] a one-year deal on an entry level, sort of a no-brainer for us.”
The Flyers were one of a few teams who went after Raffl this spring after his impressive performance at the Worlds, where he netted two goals in seven games playing alongside Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres.
Raffl said he chose the Flyers because they made it very clear they’d like to see him in an orange and black uniform –- at least, eventually.
“I kind of had the feeling that they wanted me the most,” Raffl said. “They called and stuff, they were really interested. And it’s a great organization –- there’s a lot of history here. You dream to play here.”
He added that he was “in shock” as well as “happy and excited” when he learned the Flyers wanted to offer him a contract.
Making the team won’t be easy, of course, even with an obvious vacancy on the Flyers’ third line. Raffl is accustomed to the larger ice surface in Sweden as well as facing off against the smaller players of Leksands IF.
Coach Peter Laviolette isn’t too worried about getting him adjusted to the smaller rinks of the AHL and NHL, however.
“From what I understand about him, he’s a two-way, hardworking player, and typically that fits into the North American game,” Laviolette said. “He’s skilled and he’s talented, he put up points for his team last year. But I think when you get the guys that go north-south, and they play both ends of the ice hard, coming into the smaller arena isn’t that big of an adjustment.”
If Raffl doesn’t make the Flyers this time around, he is expected to head to Glens Falls to join the Flyers' AHL affiliate Adirondack Phantoms. That's an OK fate, but he's obviously going to do everything in his control to become the second-ever Austrian to wear a Flyers jersey (Andreas Nodl, you might remember, was the first).
“[I'm going to] work my butt off,” Raffl said. “I’m trying to work really hard. They’re all great players. That’s the best league in the world. You dream as a kid to play here, now I’ve got the chance to show what I can, and I’m going to do that.”
Earning a spot with the big club will be an uphill battle, but Holmgren did drop Raffl’s name along with the other noted young contenders (both of whom already have some NHL experience) when asked who will be considered to take the spot Cleary would have otherwise assumed: Scott Laughton and Tye McGinn.
For now, though, Raffl plans to keep his head down and remain focused on what happens on the ice. He has no desire to let his mind wander to what the coaches and front office might be considering.
“Too much thinking is not good, I think,” he said. “I’ll try to keep my focus, do my best, and see what’s coming up.”