The Philadelphia Flyers were seen as the benefactors of good fortune in the 2011 NHL Draft. In the weeks prior to the draft, the Flyers made two bold decisions, trading their captain, Mike Richards, as well as former 40-goal scorer Jeff Carter.
It was the Carter deal that landed the Flyers a Columbus first round pick (8th overall), in addition to thriving winger Jakub Voracek. That 8th overall selection ended up being centerman Sean Couturier. In the months prior to draft day, Couturier had projected as a top-5 overall talent out of Drummondville in the QMJHL. His two-way skills were electrifying and hard to miss, coming off back-to-back 96-point campaigns with the Voltigeurs. However, his already criticized lack of fantastic foot speed, as well as a bout with mononucleosis scared many teams away from the American-born center.
His all-around play was so astonishing for an 18-year-old that he did not even need any minor league stops in-between, making the Flyers in October of 2011. While solidifying a shutdown role on the Flyers’ checking line, he tallied 27 points in his rookie year and became a trustworthy part of the Flyers’ penalty kill and late game situations.
Perhaps the Flyers never looked smarter with the Couturier selection than in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The then 19-year-old recorded a hat trick in Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins while stifling Evgeni Malkin throughout the entirety of the six-game Flyers series victory.
Couturier Slumps as Sophomore
As bright as the rookie campaign was for Couturier, it was the same amount of frustration for year number two. After recording 28 points in 31 games for the Adirondack Phantoms in the AHL prior to the lockout’s conclusion, he never found his form from the prior year with the Flyers, scoring just four goals and 15 points in his shortened 46-game season.
While his defensive and neutral zone play is still an asset to the organization, the fact is, in Philadelphia, an 8th overall draft pick cannot be just a defensive zone specialist.
Hopefully for Flyers’ brass, Couturier’s newly signed two-year, $3.5 million bridge deal will take some of the pressure off the “still” just 20-year old.
The question now for the Flyers, in particular head coach Peter Laviolette, is where will Couturier play, and with whom will he skate? It seems fairly safe to assume that the Flyers’ top line of Claude Giroux centering Scott Hartnell and Voracek will not be touched. Speculation seems to indicate Vinny Lecavalier will center a second line with Wayne Simmonds and perhaps Brayden Schenn, who garnered experience flanking Danny Briere for parts of the past two seasons.
This seems to leave Couturier as the third-line center once again. Matt Read remains a highly skilled winger without a spot on this particular author’s line charts. The other wing is very much up for grabs.
It will be interesting to see how Couturier will fare, particular with regards to playmaking ability. He will be looked to as a puck distributor, and if Read can regain his own stellar rookie form from 2011-2012, the duo has the potential to inflict some harm on lesser defensive pairs.
For a Flyers team that still lacks defensive stability, a playoff run is only likely to occur if the offensive-minded youth, especially Couturier, can increase their point production stock while remaining sound at the other end. All of a sudden, the 20-year-old veteran has become an even bigger piece to the Flyers’ retooling puzzle.