Wingers Michael Raffl and Matt Read, former 20-goal scorers coming off disappointing seasons, and center Scott Laughton formed an effective unit as the Flyers opened their exhibition season Sunday.
Call them the Reclamation Line.
“I thought we played well together,” Read said after Monday’s camp session in Voorhees, N.J. “We were kind of swarming the puck, and if someone lost a battle, there was someone there to get the puck back.”
Laughton, a first-round draft pick in 2012, spent most of last season in the minors and seems to have rediscovered his game, especially on the defensive end.
Read lost five pounds this summer, hoping to regain his speed and scoring touch after managing just 10 goals and 19 points last season.
Raffl, a player who played on all four lines last season and finished with just eight goals and 11 points, gained seven pounds in the off-season and believes it will help him win board battles.
“He looks likes Arnold Schwarzenegger,” cracked teammate Jake Voracek from near Raffl’s locker.
“I’ve been pumping some iron, yeah,” said a smiling Raffl, who missed the last six weeks of last season with a knee injury but says he is “better than 100 percent” healthy this year.
Raffl, Read and Laughton are trying to fight off stiff camp competition, particularly from young players, and land roster spots.
“You have to embrace it, though,” Raffl said. “They’re going to give everything they have, but I’m not going to give my spot to them. I’m not going to hand it over, so you have to earn it.”
In Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at the reverberating Nassau Coliseum, Laughton’s line won board battles and spent a lot of time in the Isles’ end despite being matched against their best line: John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Raffl said of the loud, chanting crowd that witnessed the first game at Nassau in three seasons. “Laughtsy was skating very well up the middle; he brings a lot of speed. We had the puck quite a lot and created some chances, so it was fun.”
“It helped that it was a sold-out building and really loud. The atmosphere was good,” Laughton said. “I thought we got off to a good start with our first shift and kind of rolled from there. We’ve just got to keep going. One game is not going to do it. Hopefully we stay together and keep building chemistry.”
Read said everyday he tells himself to “try to be the hardest-working guy out there. Move your feet as much as you can and win puck battles and the other things will come.”
Coach Dave Hakstol praised the line’s performance Sunday, but said he wasn’t sure if the trio would stay together for one of Wednesday’s split-squad exhibitions against the Islanders.
In June, Raffl and Read weren’t sure if they would even have a chance to win a roster spot with the Flyers. Unlike the 23-year-old Laughton, they were not protected in the expansion draft. They were bypassed, however, as Vegas took center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare from the Flyers.
“I was kind of sitting there waiting to see if I would get a phone call or not,” said Raffl, 28, who, like Read and Laughton, could spend time on the penalty-killing unit if they earn roster spots. “It was kind of a new but weird feeling.”
“It was something completely out of your hands, so if it happens it happens; if it doesn’t you come back to camp here and get ready for your season,” Read, 31, said. “If it’s out of your control, why worry about it? Why fret about it?”
Raffl is glad Vegas bypassed him.
“Sometimes hockey is a business and you cannot choose, so I was ready either way, but I wanted to stay here. That was clear,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys and I want to stay here as long as I can.”