Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren certainly would have liked to have added the combination of veteran knowledge, skill and grit that Daniel Cleary brings to the table. But Cleary's decision to remain with the Detroit Red Wings did little to affect Holmgren's sleep pattern.
He knew all along he had a player who could be just as ready to step into the same third-line left wing spot Cleary was going to take.
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"I know our guys saw him quite a bit in [Sweden] last year and at the World Championship," Holmgren said. "Both [head of pro scouting] Dave Brown and [director of scouting] Chris Pryor spent a lot of time following him around. He's a bigger, thick kid. He's got a real nose for the net. He's pretty good with the puck and he can shoot."
Raffl (6-foot, 195 pounds) had team-highs of 24 goals and 46 points in 49 games with Leksand in Sweden's Allsvenskan, the second-highest pro league in the country, then had three goals and three assists in 10 playoff games to help Leksand earn promotion to the Swedish Hockey League for the 2013-14 season.
"It was big," Raffl said. "[Vanek] is one of the best players in the world, one of the best at what he's doing, and he's Austrian, so it was great to play with him. He helped me a lot. He told me if I get the chance [to play in the NHL], I better use it."
He's doing that so far with a strong early impression in training camp.
"He had a good practice out there," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said following the first on-ice session of camp. "He can skate and he's got a heavy shot, he moves the puck well."
Raffl said he knows how difficult the jump from the larger international-size rinks and lower-level competition in Allsvenskan to the NHL is, but said he's going to work as hard as he can to show the Flyers he's worth keeping around.
There will be competition for the third-line left wing spot. Center Sean Couturier and right wing Matt Read likely will make up two-thirds of a line that will be key in the team's defensive effort. Veterans Maxime Talbot and Zac Rinaldo are capable of filling that spot, as is 23-year-old power forward Tye McGinn, who had three goals and five points in 18 games as a rookie last season. Holmgren said Scott Laughton, a center selected by the team with the 20th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, could get an audition there.
Raffl said he's determined to show he deserves the job.
"I'm going to work my butt off," Raffl said. "I’m trying to work really hard. They're all great players, it’s the best league in the world. You dream as a kid to play here. Now I've got a chance to show what I can and I'm going to do it."