By David Strehle
NHL Hot Stove Managing Editor
When the Philadelphia Flyers selected center Sean Couturier with the eighth-overall pick in this past June’s entry draft, they knew they were getting a very good player. He had been ranked the first-overall prospect at one point before contracting mononucleosis, at which time his spot in the Central Scouting Bureau’s rankings went into a free fall.
Only time will tell just how good of a player the 18-year-old rookie will develop into eventually, but he’s looked like anything but a youngster in the first 14 games of the season.
After a strong showing in training camp and exhibition games, head coach Peter Laviolette showed his confidence in Courturier from day one. He saw significant ice time in the final five minutes of a 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on opening night – including the last minute of regulation – all the while protecting a one-goal lead.
One by one, the draft class of 2011 that still had eligibility remaining were sent back to their junior teams. Jonathan Huberdeau (Third-overall by the Florida Panthers; Saint John Sea Dogs), Ryan Strome (Fifth-overall by the New York Islanders; Niagara IceDogs), Mika Zibanejad (Sixth-overall by the Ottawa Senators; Djurgarden), and Mark Scheifele (Seventh-overall by the Winnipeg Jets; Barrie Colts) were all returned to their respective junior squads.
Amid speculation by many NHL scribes that it may be better for his development to send him back to the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Couturier instead played his way onto the Flyers’ roster.
Couturier celebrates his first career NHL goal in Ottawa on October 18th. (Photo credit: Phillip MacCallum / Getty Images North America)
Couturier has no eligibility to be farmed out to the Adirondack Phantoms of the American Hockey League, so once he skated in game number 11 – which was against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 29th - it was guaranteed that he will be with Philadelphia for the remainder of the season.
Couturier joined first-overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers), second-overall selection, Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche), and Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils) as the only four players in the top-eight draft choices to stick with their respective team’s rosters past game 10.
There is good reason why the Flyers’ brass came to the decision to keep him with the big club. Couturier has thrived, even when the team has had rough stretches, notching five goals and eight points.
Perhaps most impressive, he leads the team in plus / minus ratings with a +9, and has not finished a game on the minus side of the ledger all year.
Pretty impressive stuff from the 6′ 3″, 197-pounder.
And Couturier continues to get better with additional ice time, and has notched three goals and four points in his last three contests – including the first two-goal game of his young career Saturday night in a 9-2 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In addition to his yeomen-like work as a penalty killer, he’s been a threat to score while a man short several times in the young season. Couturier converted his first career shorthanded tally in the tilt against Columbus, and it likely will not be his last.
Laviolette’s system lends itself to attacking, even while the opponent has a man advantage. Playing with other talented, fleet-footed forwards like Claude Giroux, injured fellow-rookie Matt Read, and Max Talbot on the penalty-killing unit will definitely lead to many more scoring opportunities in that situation.
Couturier has even been seeing a good amount of time on the club’s power play unit in recent contests.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie made a rather bold prediction just prior to the commencement of the regular season that Matt Read, another Philadelphia rookie forward, would win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie-of-the-year.
With Couturier’s performance, it looks like the Flyers may have more than one freshman candidate to keep an eye on as the season rolls along.
Read, who has missed the last three games with an “upper body injury”, has three goals and seven points in 11 games, as compared to Couturier’s five and eight in 14. The pair will have to battle Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Larsson, and Vancouver Canucks forward Cody Hodgson, who are early front-runners for the award.
“He (Couturier) continues to play solid hockey for us at both ends of the ice,” Laviolette noted in his press conference after Saturday night’s game. “Defensively, penalty kill, he does the right things. Offensively, he got some opportunities and cashed them in. He’s been really strong.”
If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle
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