Amazing year for Raffl

Posted: March 28, 2014

ONE YEAR AGO, Michael Raffl was living in near anonymity in Leksand - a quiet town of just 5,934 residents in the middle of freezing Sweden.

Raffl led his Swedish Elite League team in scoring, but had not yet popped up on the NHL radar. Time was running out. He was already 24 years old, reaching the age where few players aren't considered "prospects" anymore.

"You should have seen that place," Raffl said. "There was nothing going on. I couldn't even go to dinner at night, everything closed early."

One year later, Raffl will skate in his 60th NHL game of this season tonight against the Maple Leafs. He signed a 2-year contract extension last weekend that will pay him $2.2 million.

How it has all come together - from getting noticed playing in last May's World Championships on a line with Austria's Thomas Vanek, to getting sent to the AHL to start this season, to playing in the Sochi Olympics, to anchoring the Flyers' fourth line - still amazes him.

"It's been amazing, I would say," Raffl said Wednesday morning, untying his skates in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. He had never even been to the United States before signing a 1-year, shot-in-the-dark contract with the Flyers last spring.

"Two years back, even 1 year ago, if you told me all of this, I would not have believed that," Raffl said. "You need luck, obviously. You need to be in the right spot at the right time sometimes. But I'm really happy. And I'm really proud where I am right now."

Raffl, now 25, centered the Flyers' fourth line in Wednesday night's loss against the Rangers. It was far and away Craig Berube's most productive line - something the coach admitted post-game before laying into his top-line stars.

For Raffl, an atypical fourth-line player with skill and speed, skating with Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall nightly is no source of shame. He earned an audition on the top line with Claude Giroux in November and has been like an elevator, up and down Berube's line chart.

Yet, Berube believes that Raffl provides an element that makes his last unit unusually dangerous. Raffl has nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 59 games.

"I think he's done a really good job," Berube said. "He's skating really well. He's on top of people. He's forechecking hard. He's getting some opportunities to score. He's doing a good job killing penalties. He's been a valuable player for us for a while."

Raffl has the energy and consistency of a fourth-line player, but the skill to create scoring chances for his linemates instead of a dump and chase. With four goals, Hall has scored more this season than he has since 2010-11 with Tampa Bay.

"If we can score, I know it helps the team a lot," Raffl said. "We try to bring some energy. If we're down, I know 'Rino' is going to run somebody over and get the crowd going a little bit."

The chemistry between Rinaldo and Raffl doesn't end on the ice. They are roommates on the road and often sit next to each other in the dressing room.

Raffl has been somewhat of a tourist during this whirlwind year. After never having set foot on North American soil, Raffl has now visited every NHL city except St. Louis and Boston. He even made it to small towns like Lake Placid, N.Y., for training camp - shortly before he was cut and sent to Glens Falls, N.Y., for the first two games of the AHL season.

"I show him around, but he shows me around, too, sometimes," Rinaldo said. "He's never lived permanently in the States, so everything we've done has been fun."

If Rinaldo were to describe Raffl for someone who hasn't met him: "He's a really down-to-earth guy. Anyone can go up to him and shoot the [breeze] with him about anything, not just hockey."

Always jovial, Raffl has become a popular addition in the Flyers' locker room. After Wednesday's morning skate, Raffl was giving $21 million All-Star and veteran Mark Streit a tough time for screwing up a simple drill in their brief practice.

Raffl is a long way from Leksand - or even the tense few weeks early in this season when he was called up from the AHL and wondering if he could move out of a hotel near the practice rink and into his first apartment.

"All of the sudden, now I'm in the big city. I don't have to cook all the time," Raffl joked. "It is like that, though. I think that [experience] makes you stronger, makes you work harder. I really wanted this. And I worked hard for it."

Slap shots

Fitting with "The Walking Dead" star and Philly native Lauren Cohan in the seats at Madison Square Garden, the Flyers looked, well, dead Wednesday against the Rangers. Claude Giroux said: "It's like we didn't have any energy." So, Craig Berube canceled yesterday's scheduled practice . . . The sky has been falling in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs have dropped six straight to fall out of a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 10 . . . The Flyers are 0-2 against Toronto this season . . . Braydon Coburn skated in Game No. 527 of his Flyers career, against the Rangers, moving him into the Top 25 in franchise history for games played.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

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