Sean Couturier was never that kid standing 20 feet from a road hockey game, stick in hand, shooting rocks, hoping for an invite. Since Day 1 with the Philadelphia Flyers, he’s been part of the action and a valuable member of the team.
But like a great character actor who never gets tapped for the starring role, the eighth-overall pick from 2011 always felt like he had more to give.
And, boy, was he right.
“I felt confident, if I had a better opportunity, I could produce a little more,” said Couturier. “[I’m] finally getting the chance to do that and showcase myself.”
His performance this season between right-winger Jakub Voracek and C-turned-LW Claude Giroux on Philly’s reconstructed top line is certainly drawing rave reviews. Couturier has 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points in 19 games. At his current pace, Couturier — who missed chunks of the past two seasons with injuries — will set a new career high with 40 points at around game No. 36.
With 435 career contests already under his belt heading into Saturday afternoon’s tilt with the Calgary Flames, Couturier is one of those veteran youngsters. He won’t turn 25 until Dec. 7 and when he broke into the league at age 18, his mature game — in a weird way — almost worked against him. Because Couturier was more polished defensively than the average teenager, he was able to carve out a niche right from the get-go as a reliable pivot. Before you knew it, though, he was typecast and — whether playing for Peter Laviolette, Craig Berube or current coach Dave Hakstol at the start of Hakstol’s tenure — he was deployed more like a Selke Trophy candidate than an Art Ross threat.
That changed this year when Hakstol swapped Giroux out to the flank and bumped Couturier’s average ice time by about two minutes per game. The former Drummondville Voltigeurs scoring star has certainly validated the decision.
“That’s always been my thinking, score goals and produce,” said Couturier. “It’s just nice being in that situation this year where you’re counted on to outscore the opposing line every night.”
Couturier said his previous existence playing lower in the lineup was simply a case of doing what was best for the club. Now, what’s ideal for Philly is turning this complete player loose.
“I knew Coots was going to take the next step sooner or later,” said defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere. “He’s been a staple on our team defensively for [a lot] of years. Just to see him take that next step, scoring goals, leading the way through the middle, that’s huge for our team.
“He brings an aspect I don’t think we really had before; a two-way centre who is reliable in both ends, but you know can get it done offensively.”
While Couturier is not the type of shifty puck wizard who immediately draws your eye, anybody who watched five minutes of the Flyers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday could see what a determined and effective attacking player he is.
On Philly’s first goal, Couturier spread out wide to receive a looping cross-ice pass from Voracek and hammer a good, low shot on goal. Connor Hellebuyck made the save, but Voracek was perfectly positioned to convert the rebound.
Then, on a Flyers power play, Couturier took up his familiar post on the lip of the crease, where he soon collected a loose puck and banged it home.
“He’s playing with confidence, he’s using the people around him well,” says Hakstol. “In the offensive zone, it’s a real mixture; he’s making plays, but he’s also around the net.”
For those wondering, Couturier still has the best interest of his own net at heart, too.
“His game hasn’t changed on our side of the red line or in any zone,” says Hakstol. “He’s a smart player, he takes a lot of pride in the defensive side. In many respects, he’s continuing to improve that part of his game.”
Sounds like this second act is going to be quite a show.