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Michael Raffl has been an early success story

Three cheers for fourth line depth scoring!

Vegas Golden Knights v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

To be completely honest, I was very disappointed when Chuck Fletcher announced that he has re-signed Michael Raffl. Raffl was heading into his age 31 season, and was coming off of a dismal 18 point season where he didn’t really drive play either. So, when his two year, $1.6 million AAV contract was announced, I wasn’t too thrilled.

In my eyes, there were prospects that could easily fill in for Raffl at a less expensive cost. I knew that Raffl would be an at-least-OK fourth-liner, but was worried about the prospect of him playing up in the lineup. He was very much the “hockey man” pick, the veteran player in decline that we had seen play over youth dozens of times before under the previous administration. To this end, I had said the following on Raffl in my forwards preview earlier in October:

With Raffl, there isn’t much to get excited about. At this point in his career, he is just an average fourth liner or a very good replacement player. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, had it not been for the $1.6 million cap hit. That’s money I would rather save to be honest, but I digress. Raffl was a member of the “honey bees” line that provided the Flyers with depth in 2017-18, but he hasn’t been at all relevant since that line was separated.

Raffl fits into the group of “interchangeable bottom tier players” along with Tyler Pitlick and Carsen Twarynski in that I don’t have high exceptions of them at all. Raffl probably won’t hit 20+ points, but if he does, I’ll be pleasantly surprised! Additionally, last season was his worst from a Corsi-for perspective, and as much I would like him to at least break even next year, I can’t say I expect it.

I’m very happy to be proven wrong, at least in these early days of the NHL season.

Raffl has easily been one of the best, if not the best depth forward on this roster. So far through seven games, Raffl has four points (two goals and two assists), including that wonderful backhand he tucked away one-on-one to seal the Flyers’ victory against the Vegas Golden Knights.

From the eye test perspective, Raffl has looked notably more energized, and my word he is a demon on the forecheck. This could be simply due to Alain Vigneault’s insistence on an aggressive forecheck, but even then, Raffl has been very efficient at implementing it. His usage so far on the fourth line has also contributed to his early success. Raffl’s offensive skillset truly shows in his limited minutes due to the competitive advantage he has (that is, being more skilled than the other players). In combination with his dogged nature, aggressive forechecking, and his relentlessness to never give up on any play, Raffl has stood out.

Numbers-wise, Raffl has unsurprisingly driven play! Against the Golden Knights, Raffl’s line (with Vorobyev and Stewart of all people) was the second most Corsi efficient line for the Flyers with 63.64 CF% in 5:49 of 5-on-5 ice time. Of course we have to take into account their limited minutes and matchups (which will be easier), but any advantage is a good advantage! Personally for Raffl, on the season, he rests at 53.51 CF%, higher than all of the guys we consider to be “depth forwards”. He’s middle of the pack in expected goals for with 2.97, though even better is his 1.44 expected goals against. That stat betters those of Carsen Twarynski and Tyler Pitlick, two forwards who have similar ice time totals to Raffl.

Overall, Raffl simply put has looked electric. He’s been a bright spot in the Flyers bottom six, and has certainly outperformed my expectations of him so far. He’s helping to properly implement Alain Vigneault’s system, and it’s very possible his success is a symptom of Vigneault’s coaching and ideology. I am now starting to think that this may be the case, given stats like this:

All stats courtesy of the fine folk at Natural Stat Trick