Brian MacLellan’s trade deadline day acquisition of Anthony Mantha got all the headlines, but there was another deal he made that day that could also help put the team over the top in the postseason.
The Capitals acquired bottom-six forward Michael Raffl from the Philadelphia Flyers for a fifth-round pick. The 32-year old Austrian is in the final year of a two-year, $3.6 million deal ($1.6 AAV) and will likely serve in a depth role in Washington. Not only does Raffl have experience (8 NHL seasons), he has versatility too; he can play both wing and center.
“We needed it,” MacLellan said of Raffl after the deal was announced. “We like our center ice position, but we wanted a guy to play there if we had an injury or someone was out a few games. He fits the bill there.”
For stretches of time this season, the Capitals were without their normal rotation of centers: Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd. Kuzy missed a month of the season after contracting COVID-19 while Lars Eller sat out two seperate times after suffering upper- and lower-body injuries. The Capitals had TJ Oshie jump into the pivot spot off and on and also skated at times with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen.
Since being acquired on April 12, Raffl has not suited up in a game yet for the Capitals due to an upper-body injury. The six-foot, 200-pound left wing last played for the Flyers on April 10 against the Bruins. Earlier in the season, Raffl had reportedly been managing a nagging hand injury.
Raffl said his injured hand is "manageable." https://t.co/0JKzm93MDq
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) March 15, 2021
Raffl, however, is closing in on a return and may debut with his new team soon. Tuesday, he joined the Capitals out on the ice for practice for the very first time. Raffl wore a blue non-contact jersey and took drills with his teammates. Media at MedStar Capitals Iceplex pegged him as an extra on the third line.
“For me, it was the first time practicing with them,” Raffl said after the skate. “I didn’t come on the (Capitals’) road trip so it was nice to go out there and get to know the boys and just be around them. Feel a part of the team.”
The deal to Washington marked Raffl’s first time being traded as a pro. He revealed during the interview that he knew no one personally in Washington besides Peter Laviolette, who briefly coached him during a rookie year camp. Raffl was popular among his teammates in Philly.
well. it’s been real, raff pic.twitter.com/auMnf7i3D7
— knox (@showponyboyx) April 12, 2021
Never forget this story about Raff and Laughts, okay? 😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/62KfD7KcUf
— amanda noell (@amanda522) April 12, 2021
While any new transition is hard, Raffl said he found it rejuvenating to go from a team that was 11 points out of the East’s final playoff spot to Washington who is leading the division and has legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.
“It’s very exciting news joining a winning club with a lot of success recently,” Raffl said of the Capitals acquiring him. “They have a good group of veteran players, a lot of star players, it’s very exciting times for me, for sure.
“I’ve been in this league long enough to know things might happen,” he added. “I didn’t really have an idea of what was going down, but that’s part of the business. You have to be ready for everything.”
Raffl said that when the Flyers prepared to play the Capitals during the season, they pegged the team as a “hard group to beat. They can hurt you in a lot of different areas on the ice,” pointing to their skill and strong defense corps.
Raffl described himself as a power forward who’s responsible in his own end. He said that he enjoys getting “some grit going” and being “tough to play against.” He has eight points (3g, 5a) in 34 games this season and led all Flyers forwards with 23 blocked shots. He also played some on the penalty kill.
“You need different skillsets on a winning team,” Raffl said. “I think everybody has to do their part and some jobs are not as much fun as others but they need to be done.”
Since arriving, Raffl has put in as much time as possible to try and learn Peter Laviolette’s system.
“Every team is working differently,” Raffl said. “I had a meeting right away with the coaches going over the system so even if I’m not playing right now, I get to watch the games and see what they’re doing different. Kind of get my mind wrapped around that.”
As for when Raffl will debut, it’s unclear. The Capitals next play on Thursday, beginning three consecutive games against the New York Islanders. The Capitals are tied with the Isles (62 points) and the two teams have identical records (29-13-4). The stretch of games could determine who wins the East Division.
“The timeline? I can’t say for sure,” Laviolette said. “I can tell you [Raffl]’s in a light blue jersey today and I thought he looked really good. Whether that progresses tomorrow I’ll have to talk to the trainers, talk to Michael, and see where we’re at. But I thought he looked good out there.”
Wednesday, Raffl made more progress and was cleared for contact during the team’s optional skate. Laviolette said he was officially an option for Thursday’s game.
Once Raffl is healthy and finds his bearings, he could provide some spark to the Capitals down the stretch and in the postseason. The forward has recorded eight points (5g, 3a), including two game-winning goals, in 28 career playoff games.
“I’m gonna give it my everything and chip in one way or another,” Raffl said. “I’m very happy to be here. It’s very exciting times.”
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