Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Michael Raffl

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

From obscurity to the top line of the Flyers (and everything in between), Michael Raffl's first year in North American hockey was interesting to say the least.

Michael Raffl

Age: 25 (December 1, 1988)
Contract Status: $1.1 million per year through 2016

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
68 12:59 9 13 22
Corsi For Corsi Rel Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
52.6% (4) +3.2% (4) 28.5% (7) 55.8% (5) 100.1% (6)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent forward lines

Linemates Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek 71.4% (+15 / -6) 59.7% 67.6%
Sean Couturier, Matt Read 25.0% (+1 / -3) 51.1% 52.4%
Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds 50.0% (+5 / -5) 55.8% 61.5%

An intriguing rookie season

Raffl signed with the Flyers after a successful Worlds campaign where he was highly sought after by several NHL teams. He didn’t flourish enough at training camp to secure one of the free roster spots, so after a few preseason games, Raffl was sent to Adirondack.

That was short lived, though, because when the Flyers fell flat out of the gate, he was recalled. For the first several months, Raffl played up and down the lineup, stepping into whatever position Craig Berube deemed appropriate. It wasn’t until December that he was promoted to the top line to skate with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.

From there, he produced like crazy for a short time, racking up eight points in seven games. Predictably, these numbers dropped off, especially when Raffl was demoted to a fourth line role to play with the likes of Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall.

Versatility is often cited as his most important asset and it’s hard to argue against that. He played on every line this season at one point or another with relative success in those positions. That’s insane. He can be effective no matter who he’s playing alongside, and with a roster where line-shifting is common, his versatility makes him pretty close to indispensable.

To demonstrate this effect, Charlie O’Connor had a great write-up on Raffl right as he began to make a splash on the first line, showing that, despite his pairing with the team’s best set of forwards, Raffl was improving the play of those around him, no matter who it was. Charlie cited the Corsi For% of several of Raffl's linemates (like Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read) both with and without him. While the sample sizes were small, it showed that, by and large, Raffl certainly wasn’t hindering his teammates and in fact, was having a positive effect on just about everybody.

At the end of the season, this still holds. Raffl positively affected possession metrics for nearly all forwards he played with.

The Flyers have found these diamond-in-the-rough type players often. They extended his contract in late March, a two-year, $2.2 million dollar deal that is cap-friendly and generally agreed upon to be pretty great for both sides.

From Albert's piece on the Raffl extension:

All in all, even if Raffl ends up being a bust, this contract is so low risk that it won't matter. Paul Holmgren seems to have made a smart move, and...you might even say he got a deal.

All in all, Raffl wrapped up this season with respectable numbers given his ice time and certainly proved himself to be a useful tool in Craig Berube's arsenal.

Nowhere to go but up

Raffl can be utilized in a fourth line role effectively when needed. That much is obvious. However, the real question moving forward is whether or not he can develop to the point of deserving a regular spot in the top nine. His price of $1.1 million dollars against the cap hit is typical of a fourth-liner, comparable to the likes of St. Louis’ Maxim Lapierre or Los Angeles’ Kyle Clifford.

But can Michael Raffl continue to build his game? Can he be more than a fourth liner?

Some cite his size as a weak point in his game, but I'm always hesitant to agree when a player's speed is an asset. It would be nice for him to be a bit bigger, I guess, especially if he’s staying on the fourth line, but getting bigger might hinder his speed, which has always been an asset for him and is one of the reasons he's in the NHL in the first place.

When Raffl debuted on the top line, he certainly didn’t look out of place, which is good news, obviously. It seemed like he was helping to generate opportunities, but it also seemed like he had trouble burying some of those opportunities. Instinct, hockey sense ... these things are wonderful, necessary even, but a player capitalizing on the chances he creates is important. That will need to improve if he’s to move up the lineup.

Raffl also worked as a serviceable penalty killer in the midst of a season when the Flyers traded one of their more dependable penalty killers in Max Talbot. Raffl played a little over 117 minutes short-handed, which is enough for fourth most among forwards on the team. It's obvious that he's still growing as a player, but he possesses an interesting skill set that makes him extremely versatile -- almost Swiss Army knife-like, similar to Matt Read. He doesn't fit cleanly into any particular spot, but that might become his biggest asset.

Raffl’s opportunities next season will depend almost entirely on a combination of the continued development of his offensive skills and the availability of a roster spot above the fourth line. I’m sure that he could play well alongside Matt Read and Sean Couturier and make an effective third line. I’m less sure that he could step in on a second line or even first line role and play for an entire season at a consistently high level.

Again, this is all speculation because his upside depends on a lot of different factors. Like Charlie mentioned in December: it’s still early in Raffl’s North American career. Now, however, we at least have a baseline for his ability. To see him stay at the same level that he ended the season on would be fine, at least price-wise. To see him excel past that point would be even better.

Preseason expectations

We did not have a season preview up for Michael Raffl because we did not expect him to make the team. But here's what Travis wrote when he was signed way back in May of 2013:

Allsvenskan is a good league and Raffl played against some quality competition during the NHL lockout, but that was limited and he's still a 24 year old just now making the first jump across the pond. Hopefully it works out and he can be a contributor on the Flyers, but I wouldn't be shocked if it took some time.

Generally speaking, our expectation for Raffl was that he had the potential to be a decent bottom-6 player, but one who would probably need some time adjusting to the North American style of game, and that it was no guarantee that he'd turn into anything noteworthy at the NHL level.

Verdict

It’s too soon to tell whether or not Raffl will pay off the way a guy like Matt Read has, but he’s pretty close to meeting his best case scenario. Raffl helped the team control possession and play a faster game. He also became a dependable penalty killer, and overall, a solid and affordable addition to the team.

Suffice it to say he's met expectations. And while it's true that no one knows what role Raffl will be playing with the club next year, if he can continue to grow his game, one would think he will be trusted with more ice time and thus, more chances to prove himself.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Michael Raffl's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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