Fresh Starts All Around
In a whirlwind of less than 36 hours, the Philadelphia Flyers went from having a bare shelf of prospects and very few draft picks to possessing the top prospect in hockey, Brayden Schenn and the 8th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. With the top ten pick, they added a center that used his 6’4 frame and natural talent to become the first 17-year old to since Sidney Crosby to lead the QJMHL in scoring. Like the Flyers past season, the pick was heralded only to fall beyond where many had projected him. At the season’s start, Sean Couturier was the top draft prospect in hockey. When general manager Paul Holmgren took the stage in Minnesota, the Flyers put him at the top of their shelf.
Despite his name being linked to two of the biggest trades in franchise history, Couturier isn’t Mike Richards or Jeff Carter. Yet, he possesses some of the traits that made both players incredibly successful as members of the Flyers. His defensive prowess is along the lines of Richards, while his size has already drawn comparisons to Carter. He walks into an organization that is attempting to fill the void of the two centers they jettisoned. His burden is the footsteps that came before him, yet his youthful ignorance may help him overlook them.
Luckily for Couturier, he won’t know what things were like before he put on the orange sweater. Awkward media sessions and captaincy tug of wars will cease to exist in the room when he arrives. Holmgren’s moves were made to help propel the franchise, emphasizing exuberance of the young talent meshed with no-nonsense veterans. And if the moves create what was envisioned, he will share stalls with others that are just out to play hockey. The elder statesmen will handle the rest.
He can lean on the likes of James van Riemsdyk, a player who knows the pressures of being a top pick in the NHL. Or perhaps he can work with Schenn, another newcomer who is now thrust in the middle of the hockey hotbed in Philadelphia. His acclimation to the city and the pressure will be one that is filled with ups and downs. But he hasn’t discovered that yet. He’s had his way until now.
Although he faced the hardship of having mononucleosis last season and dropping down draft boards across the league, he hasn’t faced Philadelphia. That’s a beast that’s cut from an entirely different ilk than those of his own hardships. Yet, he may have some time to prepare for his meeting with that beast. Many prospect gurus have plainly stated that Couturier needs to gain strength and consistency in the AHL before he is ready to take the ice at Wells Fargo Center. While many in the City of Brotherly Love are already aching to see the player with the draft’s highest points per game average, they may have to wait until he’s ready.
As for Holmgren, he maintains that the player is responsible for deciding where he ends up on opening night. Although that rings true in every camp across the league, one can’t help but think that his performance would have to be phenomenal to start on the big club. One needs to look no farther than van Riemsdyk to understand the importance of fully developing before skating in the NHL. The young winger seems to have finally conquered the demons of expectations, but many wonder if the results had shown sooner had he been given some significant time to condition in the AHL.
For Couturier, the demons may be bigger than those of van Riemsdyk’s journey. Because he was included in the trade for Carter, he will remain synonymous with one of the most tumultuous days in franchise history. Despite Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds sharing that burden with him, his name will hold the asterisk of, ‘the pick that was traded for Jeff Carter’. He started last season with a positive expectation of being the top overall pick. He will begin next season with an expectation to make the roster and help fill the void that trading Carter left.
Shockingly, Couturier remained on the board at pick number eight. With many expecting the Flyers to draft a defenseman the likes of Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Murphy, they continued to thumb their noses at conventional wisdom and took Couturier. Need is often overlooked when talent overwhelms it, and given the franchise’s recent inability to develop young defenseman, perhaps it was for the better.
Holmgren seemed at a loss for words in a post-pick interview on TSN at the draft when asked if he was surprised that the center out of Drummondville was still available. For Holmgren, the loss of words spoke volumes. When a player with the pedigree (his father also played in the NHL), talent, and size of Couturier was there for the taking, the Flyers had to call his number.
Only time will tell if the tall, lanky center will be able to crack the Flyers’ roster. With Briere and Claude Giroux the only returning centers on the team capable of playing on the top three lines, it will be interesting to see whether or not Schenn will hold a place in the middle of the third line. If Couturier were to make the team, his place on the roster would most likely be on a wing, out of his natural position.
Therein lies the irony of the drafting of Couturier. The tall goal-scorer that was traded for the eighth overall pick was always in the same position, out of position. He was a center that was usually stuck on the wing because that’s the way that worked best for the franchise. In the end, that center’s position was in Columbus, and now Couturier’s is in Philadelphia.
For now, the city awaits him with open arms with a chance to burn the bridge of the day when two franchise centerpieces were sent packing. For now, the once top prospect in a top-heavy draft seems like a steal at the eighth overall pick.
For now, the Flyers’ shelf isn’t bare.
*Couturier highlight reel via youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2kT03J8MzI *