Michael Raffl is a 24-year-old Austrian forward vying for a roster spot with the Flyers after playing eight years in Europe. (USA Today Images)
He had not gotten off the ice yet for his line change, when the puck was turned over at the blue line to Michael Raffl.
Without hesitation, the left winger darted into the Rangers' zone and found Vinny Lecavalier open in the right circle -- Lecavalier's favorite spot -- for a quick shot on Rangers goalie Marty Biron.
That is the essence of Raffl. Seemingly being in the right spot, knowing where his other winger is sitting. It’s a gift.
Same thing happened no less than four times on Monday night against Washington, as well. Raffl can find his linemates with the puck, whether it be a skill line with Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds against the Caps, or on a checking line of Max Talbot and Chris VandeVelde during the Flyers' 3-2 exhibition loss to the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday.
“It’s hard to explain, sometimes you play with somebody and you just can’t see them [on the ice],” Lecavalier said. “For some reason, sometimes there are lines that don’t click. You can’t see guys, you can’t find them.
“You always kind of look around and [think] where is he? But I thought with Simmer (Simmonds) and Raffl, we made some good plays. We connected right away. We talked on the ice. It makes for a lot easier game if you are always looking for each other.”
The Flyers, 1-2-1 in the preseason, will cut their roster down to 28 players on Wednesday before they head to Lake Placid for four quick days of training and team bonding.
Raffl is certain to be there. Right now, he has a slight edge on fellow wingers Tye McGinn and Jason Akeson for a roster spot.
Tuesday’s objective was to see what Raffl could do in a checking role with Talbot. One of the things the Flyers liked about Dan Cleary -- had he chose them over Detroit -- was Cleary’s ability to play up or down the lineup.
“Not that many open scoring chances for me,” Raffl said. “I think I can fit that role, too, and work hard in the corners. I didn’t play my best game tonight. That’s a challenge that I would take.”
Coach Peter Laviolette liked what he saw of Raffl in terms of versatility.
“It’s important to take a look at players in different situations,” Laviolette said. “There’s others who will end up with Vinny or times maybe [when it's Raffl] or someone else. It’s important to get a good feel for a player and strength he brings. His line was effective tonight.”
Flyers management wants a 13th forward who can play a little finesse and a little grind, and not be solely tied to one role. The question is whether Raffl can do that better than McGinn and Akeson at this point on the wing. Scott Laughton, also vying for a spot, is a center.
If the Flyers carry 14 forwards, two of those players will make the roster. If they carry just 13 forwards, then only one makes it.
Laughton is a natural center. The personnel staff feels he has to make the roster at that spot to develop at the NHL level.
Raffl, so far, is surprising people with the ease he fits on the ice for not having played any games in North America until Monday’s exhibition. Then again, he’s older.
The 24-year-old Austrian played eight years in Europe, the past two of which for Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League.
He scored 24 goals and amassed 46 points last season, which caught head of pro scouting Dave Brown’s eye. The Flyers signed him to a one-year deal last May.
“What he did last year, he scored a lot of points in [the] Swedish League,” said John Paddock, the Flyers’ director of player development. “They don’t score a lot of points in that league. Big rinks, slowed down, no one forechecks. It was impressive.”
Raffl has had a number of scoring chances in two exhibition games.
“He continues last night to do in the game what he has done in practice,” Paddock said. “He likes to shoot the puck. He didn’t look out of place playing with those guys.
“I talked to Simmer and he said he was easy to play with. He finds holes. He had chances early in the game. It was pretty impressive the first time playing together in four days.”
Raffl is a man of few words.
“It’s fun to get the opportunity to play with those kind of players,” he said. “There is a lot of responsibility with the puck but it was fun. I felt we had a lot of chances but I couldn’t bury it [against Washington].
“The ice is smaller, you recognize it all over the place. [It doesn't] really [hamper me]. I don’t think too much about it. It becomes part of the game.”
Craig Berube coached the 4-3 shootout loss to the Capitals.
“He had some great chances, he missed the net three times in the first period for goals -- I thought they were real good opportunities,” Berube said of Raffl.
“He puts himself in the right position to score, that’s for sure. He shoots the puck well. I thought he was good, I thought overall he skated well and his first game over here, it’s not a lot of time and he’ll get better and better.”