Flyers

Raffl clicks right away with Lecavalier, Simmonds

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Raffl clicks right away with Lecavalier, Simmonds

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.”

Andrew MacDonald out 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury

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Andrew MacDonald out 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury

A roster spot for Samuel Morin appears to have opened up.

Andrew MacDonald will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Sunday. MacDonald will likely land on injured reserve.

The injury likely occurred midway through the third period against the Oilers on Saturday, when MacDonald blocked a Mark Letestu slap shot with 10:48 left in regulation and 1:44 left on an Edmonton power play.

MacDonald hobbled around on basically on one leg before being able to clear the puck and make it to the bench after 44 seconds. MacDonald blocked a game-high six shots Saturday.

“You just got to get up,” MacDonald said after the Flyers’ 2-1 win. “If you don’t get up, it’s 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. Everyone battles through it.

“You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys.”

With MacDonald injured, the Flyers now have six defensemen. Brandon Manning has been a healthy scratch the past two games as Travis Sanheim drew back into the lineup.

The Flyers have yet to make a corresponding roster move, but considering Morin nearly made the team out of training camp and hung around for the four-game season-opening West Coast trip, it’s a safe assumption that Morin will find his way back to the NHL.

Morin had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms on Saturday night, an assist Friday night and points in all his three games in Lehigh Valley.

If Morin does come back up, the question is will he play?

The Flyers were reluctant to play three rookie defensemen on their season-opening trip and scratched both Sanheim and Morin for the season opener.

Things have changed now, though. MacDonald is third on the Flyers in ice time, averaging 19:36 while playing with Ivan Provorov, who will now find himself with a new partner.

Dave Hakstol could insert Manning into the lineup, which is a strong possibility. How Hakstol draws up his pairings remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely he’ll break up Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie Robert Hagg. It’s possible Provorov finds himself with Manning or Morin, or perhaps Radko Gudas. We’ll know more after Monday’s practice.

Calling up Morin is not Hextall’s only option. The Flyers also have T.J. Brennan in the AHL, who is a better fit as a seventh defenseman.

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

After spending nearly the entire 2016-17 campaign at Lehigh Valley, Flyers center Scott Laughton looks like a whole different player this season. But the demotion and time spent in the minor leagues aren’t the only reasons behind his NHL rebirth.

Laughton also became a far better skater.

Through eight games, Laughton has two goals and one assist with a plus-one rating – hardly the kind of numbers that typically garner a lot of attention. However, the former first-pick is centering a quality fourth line for the Flyers, a grouping that has been strong in its own end while also generating impressive offensive opportunities at the other. Laughton leads the club’s forwards in shorthanded time on ice as well, playing a huge role in a penalty-killing unit that’s managed to ward off all but one of the last 13 power plays it’s faced.

The difference is apparent, and Laughton knows it, too. Some of that comes with age and experience – he’s only 23, with 117 NHL games under his belt. Yet Laughton directs much of the credit for his growth on the ice to his longtime skating coach, Dawn Braid.

“Worked with the same skating coach I have been for the last six, seven years,” Laughton said Friday of his offseason regimen. “She actually just got hired with Arizona. She was a skating coach there.

“I've been working with her. I did a lot of tight edges, a lot of tight work, and I did a lot of crossovers to try and develop speed. I think everything kind of comes together though — your off-ice training combined with that — and just getting stronger as I get older. I'm getting older and coming into my body.”

A former figure skater, Braid was named the Coyotes' skating coach in August of 2016, become the NHL’s first full-time female coach in the process. From the sound of things, the hiring was long overdue.

Braid had built a following around the league, and from players vastly more acclaimed than Laughton.

“She works with (Islanders center and four-time All-Star) John Tavares and helped him,” Laughton said. “She's got (Stars center Jason Spezza). She's got a bunch of guys. A lot of guys go to her. She's like Barb Underhill in Toronto. They were partners.

“I've been skating with her since I was in first year of juniors, so I really like her.”

It sounds like Laughton is getting an education in more than how to be better on his skates. As Braid has worked with more NHL stars and teams, she’s began teaching more than just being quicker and more fluid on the ice.

There are applicable hockey lessons and techniques involved in their training.

“I think she's really incorporated puck work,” Laughton said. “It used to be no pucks. She watches game film and things like that, and sees what's going on in the game and tries to help you that way.”

Whatever Laughton is doing, it appears to be working. A year ago, he couldn’t crack the Flyers’ main roster, managing to appear in just two games. He finished with 19 goals, 20 assists and a plus-17 rating in 60 games for the Phantoms in 16-17, with an additional two goals and one assists in five playoff tilts. Despite finishing with a 39-33-10 record and missing the postseason, the big club never felt as though Laughton was needed.

It’s early into the 17-18 campaign, but it’s already difficult to imagine this Flyers squad without Laughton’s contributions – so give the assist to Baird on this one.