Last season Philadelphia Flyers rookie Sean Couturier made a name for himself defensively after the way he handled Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin during the first round of the playoffs. The Hart Trophy winner was held to just four even-strength points during the six-game series and teammate Jaromir Jagr took notice of the youngster, comparing him to former Hartford and Carolina great, Ron Francis.
While his defensive-minded skills looked as polished as the Hall of Famer’s, his talent on the offensive side of the puck could have used some work. If the Flyers are going to be successful this year then Couturier will need to continue to find ways to put the puck in the back of the net – and he knows it. After the Flyers’ second official practice on Monday afternoon, Philadelphia Inquirer Flyers beat report Sam Carchidi spoke to Couturier and sent out the following tweet on his Twitter account:
Couturier: “Personally, I think I can bring more offensively” this year. #Flyers
It’s a lot of pressure to place on a 20-year-old who is only in his second year in the NHL but after what we saw at the beginning of last year, he should be able to handle it. He’s done everything in his career with a surprising amount of quickness. Couturier surprised everyone when he earned a roster spot at training camp last season, just months after the Flyers selected him eighth overall – a pick that came from the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the Jeff Carter trade.
Couturier got off to a hot start to the season and was selected to the NHL All-Star Game, becoming one of the youngest participants in league history. It appeared as though Couturier was enjoying the perfect transition from the juniors to the NHL. His strong play was carrying over from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he once led the league in scoring and was also selected as Most Valuable Player, but after the All-Star Game his offensive production dropped off completely.
Couturier managed just three goals and four assists in the 33 games after the break. He went on to finish the regular season with 13 goals and 14 assists in 77 games. Some of the blame could be that he spent most of the year on the fourth line and never really had steady linemates. The team’s roster changed this past summer and with the departures of both Jagr and James van Reimsdyk, the Flyers will rely on Couturier heavily this season, though he will need to play solid on both ends of the ice. His ice time will increase considerably and he will likely start the season centering the Flyers’ third line.
At 6-foot-4 and 191 pounds, there’s no doubt he has the size – but adding some bulk certainly wouldn’t kill him. Couturier has shown that he has the strength to win the one-on-one battles down low but some extra weight would go a long way. His best attribute has to be his on-ice vision, which he needs to better use to his advantage. He always knows exactly where everyone is on the ice at any given time, which can be a huge in the neutral zone, since he can’t rely on his speed like most other players his age. Centering a line with Matt Read and newly-acquired Ruslan Fedotenko could be a perfect fit for Couturier. They could rely heavily on their defensive-minded play and still have the ability to open up the ice on the other end. Read would be an important component, as he would need to pick up where he left off last season and continue to find the back of the net.
No matter who partners Couturier’s line, to expect so much from a 20-year-old in just the second year of his career is very risky business. But from what we’ve seen in his short career, there’s no doubt Couturier is up for it. He’s already got a defensive game that is mature beyond his years, so now it’s time to see if he can regain the scoring touch he had during his junior days. 50 to 60 points this season hardly seems out of the realm of possibility.
Ed is a die hard sports fan from Philadelphia who follows all of the city’s local teams. He has written for a number of print and internet media sources and is a hockey junky. When he is not watching a game, he is spitting out useless trivia knowledge, or upholding his title as movie quote extraordinaire. You can follow Ed on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller.