No, not Team USA. Well, maybe them too but I'm not talking about them.
I'm talking about Team Austria. I will not be watching Team Austria as a fan of the Olympics pulling for the underdog to win over the heavy favorites of Team Canada, Team Russia, Team USA, and others.
Nope. I will be watching them as a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Team Austria features three NHL players in Flyers rookie Michael Raffl and two New York Islanders, Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek. Former NHLers Andreas Nodl and Thomas Pock are also on the squad.
For Raffl this is an opportunity to really showcase his ability. He will all but certainly be a top-line forward, second-line at the least, and see more ice time than he typically would with the Flyers. He is also getting the opportunity to play with NHL players that he wouldn't normally.
I think the time spent with people like Vanek and Grabner is the biggest thing Raffl can take away from the Olympics. Let's face it, Team Austria most likely won't win the Olympic gold but Raffl will still be getting the opportunity to pick the brain of elite NHL scorers.
Maybe Grabner isn't the best example as he has steadily, and consistently, declined since his 34-goal, 52-point season for the Islanders in 2010-11.
But Vanek? Vanek is definitely a guy Raffl can learn a thing or two from. There are some differences as the 30-year-old Vanek has been an elite player since he was drafted fifth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in that deep 2003 draft while Raffl was signed as a free agent. Standing at 6'2", 205 lbs. Vanek has a bit more size than the 6'0", 192 lbs. Raffl but not enough where Raffl couldn't use some of Vanek's moves.
Whatever Vanek has done at the NHL level has worked. He has scored 20 or more goals in every season since he entered the league in 2005-06 and is currently sitting at 19 goals this season. That stat is even more impressive when you take into account that Vanek only played 38 games last year in the lockout-shortened season and still but up 20 goals and 21 assists.
Vanek has a knack for putting up points - whether it is scoring or assisting. He just gets the job done.
One thing Raffl is known for is having an uncanny ability to be around the net and putting himself in a position to put up points. Just 46 games into his first NHL season, the 25-year-old Raffl has seven goals and 11 assists. Not exactly numbers that jump off the page but when you consider he didn't score his first goal until December 9th and he has played on almost every line the Flyers have, it's not too bad.
Can Raffl become an effective scorer on the same level and Vanek one day? I won't say "no" because we are just scratching the surface of what he can really do but let's just say it isn't likely.
What is likely is Raffl being able to take components on Vanek's game and apply them to his own. Whether it is Vanek's ability to get quick release on his wrist shot or how he somehow seems to crash the net unabated on a regular basis. Whatever it may be, Raffl will get an opportunity to learn from the source over the next week and a half.
It doesn't hurt Raffl that Team Austria head coach Manny Viveiros said "[Vanek] is a role-model for all young players in Austria."
If Raffl can comeback with more confidence, more experience, and a few new tricks up his sleeve, the Flyers could have quite a weapon on their hands for their run to the playoffs.
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