Philadelphia Flyers

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.”

End to End: Should the Flyers pursue David Pastrnak?

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End to End: Should the Flyers pursue David Pastrnak?

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 reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Should the Flyers pursue David Pastrnak?

Boruk
Who wants a 21-year-old winger coming off a 34-goal, 70-point season in his first full year in the NHL? 

Sure, where do I sign up? I see, right below the names of the league’s 30 general managers.

I came across NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton’s tweet earlier in the week, when he mentioned that the Bruins may be looking at a trade as a possibility. That may be the case, but the probability is, I think, extremely low.

However, Boston has a history of shipping out top-end talent at a very early age. Phil Kessel was sent to Toronto following a 36-goal season, and Tyler Seguin was part of a blockbuster deal with Dallas in 2013. Both Kessel and Seguin were 21 years of age, which is unimaginable how one organization could part ways with such prized prospects at such an early age. In the case of Seguin, the B’s didn’t receive nearly the compensation from the Stars to justify the swap. Eventually, an organization has to learn from its previous mistake(s).

With that said, Pastrnak is an RFA and his options are limited: sign with the Bruins or demand a trade to another team. As Bruins Insider for CSN New England Joe Haggerty points out the Bruins would demand a proven player, who will be under club control for the next several years. Haggerty mentioned Blue Jackets defenseman and Calder Trophy finalist Zach Werenski as an equitable return, or something close. Werenski was drafted eighth overall in 2015. Care to recall who the seventh player selected was? Ivan Provorov. How would you feel trading your future shutdown defenseman for the next decade as the starting point to acquire Pastrnak? Doesn’t have much appeal to me. Regardless of how well stocked the organization is with defensive prospects, Provorov is a special talent and the Flyers don’t have another one quite like him.

I’ve seen this scenario before with other RFAs when Bobby Ryan was in Anaheim, and more recently, with Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames a few years back. Those two players continued their stalemate right up to training camp before hammering out long-term deals. Unlike the NFL, hockey players simply don’t like the idea of contract talks becoming a disruption just before the season begins. That’s how I think the Pastrnak scenario will eventually play out with him signing a multi-year extension somewhere in the $6-7 million dollar range.

Dougherty
Last Monday afternoon, Lawton, an NHL Network analyst, former player, agent and general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, dropped a bombshell into the Twittersphere.

And so began the prospect of Boston losing yet another young stud.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney attempted to throw cold water on the rumors Tuesday. Sweeney told The Boston Globe in an email that he’s “not trading Pastrnak.”

OK, end of story.

Right?

Until Pastrnak signs his name on a new contract in Boston, we cannot count out the Bruins trading the 21-year-old right winger. Not with the recent history of Beantown.

First, it was Kessel. The Bruins couldn’t sign Kessel to an extension after his entry-level deal expired. They traded him to Toronto for two first-round picks and a second-rounder.

Then, it was Seguin. Whether it was immaturity issues with the then-21-year-old Seguin or his underwhelming postseason performance, we don’t know why, but the Bruins traded Seguin and he has since become a star in Dallas.

And then there is Dougie Hamilton, who was traded to Calgary after the Bruins failed to sign him long-term.

(Interesting nugget: The Bruins drafted Seguin and Hamilton with the two first-round picks acquired in the Kessel trade.)

Back to Pastrnak. Sweeney would be incompetent as a GM to openly suggest trading Pastrnak is an option. The two sides appear to be locked in a stalemate, and for the Bruins, the recent contract extension the Edmonton Oilers signed Leon Draisaitl to is bad news. This could very well go into training camp. The end game could be Pastrnak signing a long-term contract with the Bruins. You think it’s a must-do for Sweeney.

The Flyers should absolutely keep tabs on the Pastrnak situation because he would be an ideal fit here. He’s a 21-year-old scorer with a 70-point season to his name already. He should only get better. I’m quite the conservative type when it comes to sports, and with the Flyers, believed by many, having the top prospect pipeline in the league, usually, I’d suggest staying on course. But Pastrnak is the type of guy you have to consider paying for.

I don’t know what the asking price for Pastrnak would be, but it would cost Ron Hextall a lot. Probably first-round draft picks and prospects. Maybe even an NHL player too. The thought of adding Pastrnak to a young forward group of Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier and Jordan Weal is quite enticing, though. If he hits the trade market, the Flyers should be aggressive in pursuit of the Czech winger.

Hall
We're not sure if Pastrnak is being shopped whatsoever.

As Tom pointed out, Sweeney shot down the trade rumor pretty succinctly. And why would Boston even think of dangling Pastrnak on the market? This is a kid that at 20 years old, produced 70 points (34 goals, 36 assists) last season, the second-leading scorer on a playoff team.

So sending Pastrnak out of Beantown would make little sense. Yes, he's still an unresolved RFA, but you'd think the Bruins would do whatever it takes to eventually get something done.

However, if Boston is actually contemplating the trade route here, the Flyers would be silly to not listen or make a call. One purpose of building organizational depth is to create flexibility for ways to improve.

The Flyers now have the prospects to be an attractive player in trade fields, if they so choose. Obviously, you don't want to throw away the farm, and the Flyers won't.

Pastrnak, though, is a stud 21-year-old goal-scoring winger. The Flyers would be naïve to have no interest in such a burgeoning talent.

With that said, this seems like a fantasy. I don't see Pastrnak being anywhere but Boston in 2017-18.

Paone
Absolutely. 

The Flyers should be all in on Pastrnak if he really is available and Hextall should be burning up the phone lines to talk Sweeney's ear off.

Pastrnak is exactly what the Flyers need and what they've lacked for years on end now — a young, dynamic winger who can just pile pucks into the net in the blink of an eye.

The Czech native, who just turned 21 this past May, has 59 goals already in his blossoming NHL career. And he's coming off a superb first full campaign as he potted 34 goals in 75 games last season. He's a maven on the power play, too, as he scored 10 while on the man advantage last season. 

Just imagine the things Pastrnak could do on the Flyers' top-line wing, which is where he would immediately be slotted. Imagine what he could do for a Flyers team that finished in the bottom third of the league with 2.59 goals per game.

Good thoughts, gang. Good thoughts.

But here's the thing — youthful, ultra-talented scorers like Pastrnak don't just grow on trees. If they did, every general manager in the league would shimmy up the tree themselves and pluck them off the branches in bunches to take back home.

Needless to say, that's not how it works. 

The Bruins' price tag to acquire Pastrnak will be steep. And rightfully so. Why should they just give him away?

But the Flyers have the reserves that could raise Sweeney's eyebrows.

The Flyers' farm system is so deep and stocked that it was named the top farm system in the league earlier this week by ESPN. And the fact of the matter is not all of those prospects will ever wear orange and black. The farm system not only helps improve the club from within, but it also gives Hextall and the Flyers the ability to be flexible and tap into those reserves and make exterior moves to help improve the club. This would be one of those times. 

What would it take to get Pastrnak south down I-95 to Philadelphia? Just spitballing here, but think a top prospect (maybe two), a high draft pick and a young, NHL-ready player. So let's say Travis Sanheim/Sam Morin (or both), a first-round pick and Weal. Again, just a shot in the dark with a guess there. The Flyers' untouchables should be Provorov (duh), Shayne Gostisbehere, Konecny, Patrick, German Rubtsov and Carter Hart. Anyone else I'd be at least willing to listen on. 

Poaching the organizational depth and handing over draft picks isn't Hextall's traditional way of doing business. But there are extenuating circumstances sometimes. And a deal for Pastrnak would be one of those times.

NHL Notes: Devils lose Travis Zajac for 4-6 months with pectoral injury

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NHL Notes: Devils lose Travis Zajac for 4-6 months with pectoral injury

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have lost top center Travis Zajac for four to six months with a pectoral injury.

Devils executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero announced that Zajac had surgery to repair the pectoral muscle on Thursday.

Shero said the Zajac was hurt last week during offseason training.

Dr. Jonathan L. Glashow performed the surgery and estimated that Zajac's recovery time could last until February. The season starts in October.

The 32-year-old Zajac had 14 goals and 31 assists last season. He has 155 career goals and 280 assists. He has played for the Devils since the 2006-07 season.

The 20th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Zajac signed an eight-year, $46 million contract in 2013.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons to 2-year deal

Sabres: Team signs forward Girgensons to 2-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres have signed forward Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year contract.

The team announced the deal Thursday that carries an average value of $1.6 million.

Girgensons, from Latvia, is the last of the Sabres' restricted free agents to sign with the team. Buffalo's first-round pick in 2012 has 37 goals and 49 assists in 277 career games over four seasons.

He skated in a career-best 75 games last season after signing a one-year extension last September.