When the Philadelphia Flyers selected center Sean Couturier with the eighth-overall draft pick in this past summer's NHL entry draft, they knew they were getting a defensively responsible pivot. Always a prerequisite trait for any skater who wants to be a part of the club's forward ranks, the train of thought was any offense provided by Couturier would be icing on the cake when the youngster finally made the big club in a couple of years.
The club was lucky that Couturier was still available in the eighth spot. A bout with mononucleosis during the offseason prior to his final junior year may end up being a blessing in disguise for the Flyers, as his ranking plummeted as a result.
His scoring numbers with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL were still similar to when his name was sitting at the top of the Central Scouting Bureau's rankings for the 2011 draft. After a 41 goal, 96 point season in 68 games played in 2009-10, Couturier followed that up with a 36 goal, 96 point effort in 58 contests in 2010-11, his draft year.
Notice the part about "of Lindros ilk". For anyone who lived in the Philadelphia area to see Eric Lindros' time with the Flyers, that should be an exciting assessment by a man who knew his prospective NHL players.
With a game which has often been compared to that of 6' 4", 220-pound center Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins, there were those who believed Couturier would need additional time to fill out his frame. Pundits believed the 6' 3", 195-pounder was too skinny to compete with the much larger NHL bodies on a nightly basis, and the best thing for him would be to return to Drummondville to have the opportunity to bulk up.
After an excellent summer rookie camp and similarly strong Flyers' training camp, Couturier made it impossible for team brass to send him back to the 'Q'. The team has been reaping the rewards ever since.
Not only did he start the regular season as part of Peter Laviolette's squad that had undergone a major transformation during the offseason, along with Maxime Talbot, he played a lead role on the Flyers' penalty killing unit. One of the biggest eye openers was the fact that the head coach was readily employing the rookie in every imaginable situation, including during the final minute of play while protecting an opening night one-goal lead in Boston against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
While playing a solid overall defensive game, Couturier also chipped in with the occasional bit of offensive contribution, picking up five goals and nine points over the course of his first 31 games.
The recent offensive slump of many of the Flyers veteran players . Included in the team's power outage has been usually reliable performers -- Philadelphia's top scoring line, which has suddenly gone dormant over the last five games. Claude Giroux (5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, -6), Jaromir Jagr (5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, -2), and Scott Hartnell (5 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, -4), as well as Danny Briere, who outside of a hat trick scored last Saturday that singlehandedly defeated the Ottawa Senators, has recorded just one assist in the other nine contests of his last 10.
The simultaneous slump of so many key veteran contributors would have been crippling if not for the play of the deep contingency of rookies in the club's lineup, especially Couturier.
Following a scary incident during game number 31, in which the 19-year-old missed four games after taking a Kimmo Timonen slap shot to the side of the head, Couturier has come back with much more of an offensive swagger. Despite often seeing much less ice time than earlier in the year, he has made the most of what has been provided. Couturier has recorded four goals and seven points in the eight contests since his return, while being one of the 12 freshmen named to the NHL All-Star Game at the end of the month in Ottawa.
Couturier's goals have come in each of the last four games, two of which having been game winners -- the first against Carolina's Cam Ward on January 10, and the second in the very next game, against Evgeni Nabokov of the Islanders -- as the youngster's game continues to evolve. He's been good even in the losses, picking up a goal and an assist in Saturday's 4-2 loss in Nashville. Now with nine goals and 16 points in 39 games, Couturier is also tied for the rookie lead with a +12 in the plus / minus ratings.
Amazingly, it's been the play of Couturier that has inspired the veterans, who have taken notice.
"It's frustrating when you know you can play better," said Giroux of his recent stretch after Saturday's loss. "We have guys stepping up every game. (Couturier) is playing unbelievable right now. When you see your teammates working hard, you want to do the same and try to help the team win."