Raffl Finishes 2013 With Strong December

For a guy who was a healthy scratch just five weeks ago, Michael Raffl has made the most of the opportunities presented to him since returning to the lineup on Nov. 27.

In fact, December may have been the best month in the 25-year-old’s professional hockey career.

During the final calendar month of 2013, Raffl notched 10 points (2 G, 8 A) in 14 games played, including his first career NHL goal against Ottawa on Dec. 9. Prior to the beginning of December, Raffl had just one point in 14 games played.

Vincent Lecavalier’s back injury at the end of November gave Raffl the chance to jump to the second line to play alongside Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. Because he played well, and head coach Craig Berube was looking for a way to increase production from his top line, Raffl was moved up to play with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

In nine games on the top line, Raffl has seven points (1 G, 6 A), is a plus-4 and has been one of the main reasons for Giroux’s stellar play as of late. (Three of those assists have come on Giroux goals.)

The team as a whole is 7-1-1 in those nine games, with one of the wins coming as a result of Raffl’s spectacular shootout winner Saturday in Edmonton against Ilya Bryzgalov.

To cap off his great month, Raffl received a phone call from Manny Viveiros, head coach of the Austrian national hockey team, to inform him he had been selected to play for his home country in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is one of only three Austrian natives that currently play in the NHL including Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner.

A lot was made about the decision to keep Raffl on the main roster toward the end of October. Tye McGinn, the team’s leading goal scorer at the time, was sent back to the Adirondack Phantoms in favor of Raffl to make room for Scott Hartnell, who was returning from injury.

Much of the fanbase questioned the move since Raffl had zero points in four games at the time. But points didn't reflect play as Berube was unhappy with McGinn's play at the time.

While the move was not one that initially was met with great results on the ice, Raffl was able to start putting together better games as time went on, and the persistence shown by Paul Holmgren to stick with the rookie has paid off in a big way as of late.

Even when he hasn’t been putting up points this past month, Raffl has been able to make plays and has skated very well, at times being one of the best the orange and black have out on the ice. He’s been a very intelligent player that puts himself in a good position when he sees playing time.

Though points were few and far between for him earlier in the season, Raffl turned December into his coming out party. Where he would miss on good chances before, he learned to capitalize and make something happen, showing improvement in not only his game but also on the scoresheet.

There’s no doubt that Raffl is playing well as of late but he’s not only helping himself. Since Dec. 12 when Raffl joined the top line with Giroux and Voracek, they have been red-hot.

Giroux was in the midst of a nine-game point streak before having it snapped Tuesday in Calgary, and Voracek has points in nine of his last 11. This isn’t directly correlated to Raffl’s move to the top line, but he certainly has provided a spark for the line that the Flyers rely on the most for offense.

While it is only one month and Raffl still has a whole lot left to prove moving forward, there’s no question that December was a month for him to remember.   

It still remains to be seen whether he can continue this high level of play into the new year and through the second half of the season, but for now, the Flyers have themselves an impressive forward that is contributing in more ways than one.

If Raffl can continue to take advantage of the opportunities being handed to him by the team, he will show that he is deserving of a spot with the NHL club.

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Daniel Spevak
Staff Writer
Twitter: @Flyrfn144@TCLFlyers