Appreciating the Underappreciated Michael Raffl, Still Here for Another Flyers Run

Scott Laughton was anxious, almost as if he was about to be dealt.

He picked up his phone and called Michael Raffl right around the 3 p.m. cutoff point of the NHL trade deadline. With a new general manager and some roster retooling underway, Raffl seemed like a candidate to be moved as a 30-year-old pending unrestricted free agent on a team not quite there in contending mode.

What did Raffl say on the other end?

"He told me to wait an hour or so," Laughton said Monday night with a smile.

Can't hurt to play it safe.

"It was a weird day," Laughton said of the Feb. 25 deadline, "to think you're going to lose one of your best buddies or your best buddy on the team.

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"It's nice to have him here, he does so much on and off the ice and provides so much for us."

Raffl is quietly still here and has been for longer than so many realize.

He played his 400th career game in a Flyers uniform Monday night. Only Claude Giroux (474), Jakub Voracek (467), Wayne Simmonds (457) and Sean Couturier (442) have played more in orange and black since the start of the 2013-14 season.

The Austrian was signed in May 2013 to an entry-level contract at 24 years old.

"I came in here with the attitude, signing a two-way contract, to try and get one game in and be proud of that," Raffl said. "Here I am, 400 games later, it's kind of cool."

(AP Images/USA Today Images)

Over that span, Raffl's plus-27 mark is second on the team to Couturier's plus-70. He has played up and down the lineup, from complementing Giroux and Voracek to scoring 21 goals in his second season to grinding on the fourth unit in limited minutes. 

When the Flyers had the NHL's seventh-best penalty kill in 2013-14, Raffl played a career-high 117:55 minutes shorthanded. He has turned back into a PK piece the past two seasons and is one of the Flyers' smartest puck-possession forwards.

These are the underrated traits that would have made Raffl a valuable trade acquisition for a team eyeing that prototypical role forward to gain a slight but decisive edge. 

However, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher likely saw Raffl's strengths as a valued component to the team's 2018-19 hopes for a playoff berth outweighing the potential return on a trade.

After a two-point effort in Monday's 3-2 win over the Senators, Raffl has recorded nine points and a plus-7 rating in 11:38 ice time per night through the last 15 games. 

Following his 400th game, the Flyers were three points out of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card position, the closest they've been to a playoff spot since Nov. 20.

"Your whole team can't be comprised of just goal scoring and skill," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said. "You have to have different elements on your lines - killing penalties, maybe a good check, a hard forecheck, good defensively, win faceoffs, whatever it might be. And not all of your offensive players are going to have those attributes. 

"So when you look at Laughts and Raf, they play some heavy minutes, they can grind it out in the offensive zone and make it hard for the opposition and change momentum, so the next line that comes out there can have an easier time because the previous line from the opponent couldn't get onto the ice.

"Those guys are invaluable and they are just as important as guys that are putting up the big points."

Raffl never received a trade call back on Feb. 25. Instead, he got one from his friend looking for good news. Raffl was staying put, helping at least one more postseason drive in Philadelphia.

"I love it here, this is my team, this is where I signed, so this is where I want to stay," Raffl said. "I've never asked for a trade in my career and I never got traded. This is my group, this is where I want to be."

It's where he was for his 400th game, a feat that snuck up on everybody - fittingly and appropriately for a player like Michael Raffl.

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