The first time Michael Raffl met Peter Laviolette was nearly eight years ago.
Raffl, 24 at the time, had signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in May, and attended the team’s training camp before heading to the AHL affiliate Adirondack Phantoms to start the 2013-14 campaign. He got to work with Laviolette during camp, but when he was called up just three games into the season, the Flyers had already moved on from the current Washington Capitals bench boss.
Now, the two are reunited. The 32-year-old forward was dealt to Washington at the deadline, and is ready to start a new with D.C. after spending his entire NHL career in orange and black.
“It’s very exciting news joining a winning club with a lot of success recently,” Raffl said. “They have a good group of veteran players, a lot of start players. It’s very exciting times for me for sure.”
It was a deal that Raffl didn’t exactly see coming, but was — in a sense — prepared for.
“I’ve been in this league long enough when things might happen,” he explained. I didn't really have an idea of what’s going down, but that’s part of the business. You got to be ready for everything.”
Raffl grew up in Villach, Austria, his roots tied to the game of hockey. His father, Peter, spent 23 years with the Villacher SV, and Raffl and his brother Thomas — who now plays in the Erste Bank Eishockey Ligations — would spend a lot of their time at the Villacher Stadhalle arena. The family also lived two minutes down the road from fellow NHLer and longtime friend, Michael Grabner.
The road to the NHL was by no means an easy one. While hockey was a popular sport, it was difficult for several players to make it overseas, but a young Raffl was driven. He suited up for the EBCL’s VSV EC and represented Austria on the WJC and international stage.
For 2011-12, he suited up for Leksands IF of the HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-highest Swedish hockey league and put on a show in his first two years with 34 goals and 69 points through 88 games (good for .78 points per game). His play put him on the NHL radar, and he signed an ELC with the Flyers as an undrafted free agent and headed to North America to pursue his dream in 2013.
After putting up three points in his first two AHL games, Raffl made the jump to the NHL and never looked back. He had one 20-goal and 30-point season for Philly and totaled 81 goals and 160 points in 504 games over eight years with the team.
The veteran bring a lot of versatility to the table. He’s able to play any forward position — though he admits he’s more comfortable on the wing than at center — and his two-way play makes him effective in all three zones. He’s a strong skater who takes good care of the puck, and he’s not afraid to battle hard for the puck and throw his weight around.
“[I can show] responsibility in our end,” Raffl said. “[I’m a] power forward [who can] get some grit going, [maintain] puck possession be tough to play against.”
WHAT A GOAL! MICHAEL RAFFL! OH MY GOSH! pic.twitter.com/HHKoGB3fhY— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 28, 2017
Ultimately, he’s confident he’ll fit right in with the Caps and that his abilities will serve the team well.
“You need different skill sets on a winning team. I think everybody has to do their part and some jobs are not as much fun as others, but they need to be done,” Raffl explained with a smile.
As he turns the page with the Caps, Raffl says he’s looking forward to joining the group he’s faced for so many years.
“It’s nice to go out there and get to know the boys and just be around them. You feel like you’re part of the team now,” Raffl said, adding, “I’ve played against those guys a bunch. You get to know each other a little bit on the ice, but off the ice, I’m just looking to make friends, you know?”
While his exact role in the lineup has yet to be seen, general manager Brian MacLellan mentioned that he could be a strong bottom-6 center. At practice Tuesday, he was on the wing, alternating with Daniel Sprong on the third line.
Regardless, Raffl’s ready to “chip in one way or another” as he adjusts to the team’s systems.
“[The Caps] have a lot of skill. They have good defensemen, they have good goaltending. It’s a hard group to beat. They can hurt you in a lot of different areas on the ice,” Raffl said. “I’m very happy to be here. This is exciting times and I’m going to give it my everything.”