Couturier puts sophomore slump behind him

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Couturier puts sophomore slump behind him

This is a season of redemption for the Flyers.
 
For the team, the coaching staff and the general manager.
 
And yet, there is no escaping the fact that a number of players see it as a personal redemption for themselves.
 
Among them, 20-year-old center Sean Couturier, who was on the ice Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout exhibition loss to the Capitals. Joel Rechlicz got the winner.
 
Couturier had two assists in the game, playing between Jason Akeson and Jake Voracek. That line scored two goals.
 
In 2011-12, Couturier was among the Calder Trophy nominees for Rookie of the Year with 13 goals, 27 points and a plus-18 rating in 77 games with 14 minutes of ice time a game. He was outstanding on the penalty kill that season.
 
Last year? The lockout-shortened season was a personal disaster.
 
“It was an up-and-down season,” Couturier said. “Not what I wanted. I wish it had been better. It’s behind me now. I’m just looking forward to a better season.”
 
He had just four goals and 15 points in 46 games but more importantly, his solid defensive play had vanished with a minus-8 rating while playing a hair under 16 minutes a night.
 
“A lot of times second-year players don’t have as good a year,” said Craig Berube, who coached the Flyers in Philadelphia while Peter Laviolette handled the split-squad in Toronto.
 
“The one thing I know with Coots is that he is an intelligent hockey player. He knows how to play the game. That is not going to go away. He looks pretty good this year, looks energized.”
 
What has to be better this season?
 
“I think my whole game,” Couturier said. “A little bit of everything. Last year, my defensive game kind of lacked at times. I got to be more constant offensively, as well, and produce more.
 
He put on a little weight -- almost eight pounds -- and you see it as he checked in at 208 pounds in training camp. The organization wanted him to bulk up over the summer. All rookies coming out of junior take a couple of years to “fill out” but it happens.
 
Berube feels Couturier is much better and the added weight has enhanced -- not hurt -- his game. He said his initial burst in the first 10 feet is better, much like the hot start that Claude Giroux has in his skates.
 
“The first 10 feet is where he needed to be quicker,” Berube said. “That’s where people like Jake Voracek get away from guys -- they get off, then they’re gone. That’s where he had to get quicker for me. Once he gets going, he’s fine. You pull away from people and create space for yourself."
 
Couturier is not the only player who gained needed weight. Defenseman Oliver Lauridsen gained a whopping 12 pounds to weigh in at 232. He trained with boxers to be more physical and a better fighter on the ice. Gaining muscle is important to young players.
 
“Last year, I played at about 200,” Couturier said. “As I get older, I want to get bigger and stronger. That’s one part of the game where guys are so strong on the puck. You want to get stronger and out-battle these guys.
 
“The organization wanted me to get bigger and stronger. I went home and tried to get bigger and stronger and I think I did a pretty good job. I feel good [on ice]. I feel stronger and my skating is more powerful, as well.”
 
Laviolette was pleased, too. He feels Couturier need to be physically stronger in his board play for one-on-one battles. Much of the drills in the first part of training camp practices every day focus just on that aspect -- one-on-one battles.
 
“What we do out there [is] designed to be part of what we do through the course of a game,” Laviolette previously said during training camp. “With that comes a lot of board work and battle play in the offensive zone. The first half of the sessions are up and down the ice and skating and skills.
 
“The second half is more geared to competitive nature. Guys getting into battles. Sean is stronger. That comes. When you first see someone at age 18-19 and then see them again at age 23, a whole progression takes place.”
 
That’s what is happening now with Couturier. He wants to turn this muscle into offensive point production, too.
 
“I have always been a two-way player no matter what I do,” he said. “It’s nothing new. I know I can produce offensively, go out and show what I can do.
 
“The last 15-20 games [last year] I felt I played better. I finished strong. This year, I want to build on that and keep pushing and improving.”
 
The big question in camp is who will play left wing on his line with Matt Read. It was a given that that job would have gone to Dan Cleary had he not backed out of a tryout and future contract with the Flyers and signed with Detroit.
 
Now it’s a wide-open competition with Tye McGinn, Michael Raffl and even Marcel Noebels.
 
“Obviously, I’d like to know who I am going to play with,” Couturier said. “It doesn’t really change my mindset. I just want to go out and compete hard. Try to get better.”
 
Would a grinder or a skill player best complement that line?
 
“I don’t know,” Couturier said. “Anybody they put there I will have to adapt to whatever style there is. Whatever they ask me to do. Whatever role I can do to help the team.”
 
Cleary, who is 34, was capable of playing both roles which is why the Flyers liked him. One thing seems certain: The opening will be filled with a younger player.
 
That player could be Scott Laughton, McGinn or Raffl.
 
“We have different guys here who can play different roles,” Couturier said. “We have a good group here. It doesn’t matter.”

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, the projected top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, on Saturday afternoon added some CHL hardware to their trophy case.

Patrick won the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award, beating out Hischier and Windsor's Gabriel Vilardi, while Hischier edged Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi and Guelph's Ryan Merkley for the CCM Rookie of the Year Award.

Injuries forced Patrick to play just 33 games this season, but he still produced at a point-per-game pace for Brandon. He finished with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists).

Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads, his first season in the QMJHL after coming over from Switzerland.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. If the draft goes as projected, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier, whoever the New Jersey Devils do not pick.

The 2017 NHL draft is June 23-24 in Chicago.

Missing history
Flyers prospect Carter Hart had a chance to become the first goalie in CHL history to win the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Award twice, but this year's award went elsewhere.

Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven on Saturday afternoon took home the 2016-17 CHL Goaltender of the Year Award. McNiven was 41-9-4 for the Attack this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with six shutouts.

McNiven led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, and his six shutouts were tied with Windsor's Michael DiPietro for the league lead. His 41 wins were tops in the OHL.

Hart, 18, posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games with the Everett Silvertips in 2016-17. His 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and nine shutouts were all ranked No. 1 in the WHL.

Despite missing out on the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award this year, Hart previously did win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year for the second straight season. He was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week and had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 48 seconds during the regular season.

Hart was one of three second-round picks by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft.

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.