Flyers' roster hopefuls out to make impression
Chris VandeVelde, left, and Michael Raffl, right, were both acquired by the Flyers this past summer. (Philadelphia Flyers/AP)
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – At Friday’s practice, Michael Raffl and Chris VandeVelde took turns at left wing on a makeshift line with Vinny Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn.
Coach Peter Laviolette cautioned not to read into it – he had tinkered with the lines because Wayne Simmonds wasn’t on the ice – but come the Sept. 30 NHL roster deadline, one of those players will likely remain with the Flyers and the other probably will not.
On a team for which most roster spots have been set since free agency, there’s definitely a competition between Raffl and VandeVelde for one of the Flyers' two open positions. Center Scott Laughton seems to be the favorite right now to earn the other.
That said, neither player is letting the intensifying competition get to him.
“Yeah, of course there’s competition in this room,” Raffl said. “But that doesn’t affect how we treat each other.”
The Flyers acquired both players this summer, but neither was expected to make this season’s roster. Raffl was picked up from Sweden’s second-tier hockey league in May, and VandeVelde was signed as a free agent to a minor-league deal earlier this month.
Until the start of training camp (and Dan Cleary’s decision to stay in Detroit), both players were projected to wind up with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms. Now, they’re duking it out to earn a coveted role that only weeks ago likely seemed out of reach.
“We’re two new faces to the organization, so maybe [we’re feeling the competition],” VandeVelde said. “But I’m just going out there and working hard.”
Right now, neither player holds a discernible edge. Coach Peter Laviolette has liked elements of both Raffl’s game and VandeVelde’s game, praising each while staying realistic.
Raffl, for instance, looked sharp in game action, but comes from Leksands IF, a league with smaller, less talented players than can be found in the NHL (see story). Though he is mature at 24 years old, that will pose him a large challenge.
“He looks good in practice,” Laviolette said. “The first game that he played, they were real happy. He set up a lot of scoring chances. The second game, it was more of a two-way role. He did a good job. I thought his line was effective. I think he's one of the players that will continue to get evaluated as camp moves on.”
VandeVelde, too, has received praise from the Flyers’ coach. Just over a week ago, he was virtually unknown in Philadelphia, having been with the Edmonton Oilers and their AHL team, the Oklahoma City Barons. That changed earlier this week, when the 26-year-old was surprisingly left standing after the team elected to cut 32 players ahead of the trip to Lake Placid.
But VandeVelde, too, will face obstacles; though he has 28 games of NHL experience, he has largely struggled since his first game in the league in 2010 (see story).
“I thought the scrimmage, the first scrimmage, I really liked him,” Laviolette said. “I thought he did a lot of good things in practice. He moves well, he skates well. He has some experience in the NHL. He serves different roles here. We're going to continue to look at him.”
The Lake Placid portion of camp comes to a close Sunday, and the team will practice Monday before returning to preseason action against the New Jersey Devils at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday. That game is one of three that remain, three that will be critical in deciding the immediate fates of VandeVelde and Raffl.
Until the Flyers' brass makes its decision, though, the two players will just continue on as they have been: working hard, vying for coaches' attentions, attempting to prove that they have what the Flyers need.
They won't, however, be focused on the competition between themselves. Far from it, in fact.
“I don’t think we ever talked about it,” Raffl said. “But we’re getting tighter and tighter over there. We’re good buddies now.”