Following a rookie season that started with him surprising everyone and making the team and finished with a strong season as an 18-year-old checking line center who was showing flashes of offensive brilliance in the playoffs against Pittsburgh, the expectations soared.
In his second season, the thought process was that he could be even better than he was as a rookie. Forget the fact that he was only 19. Forget the fact that there was a lockout. Forget the fact that now other teams knew how he played and would adjust to him as much as he was to them.
So, when looking at Couturier’s sophomore campaign, it’s easy to mark it as a disappointment.
Just four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 46 games was off slightly off pace from his rookie season. Going from a plus-player to a minus one, even if it’s not always the most accurate stat, is still looked at as a change for the worse.
And the fact that his name was constantly being brought up in trade rumors had to weigh on him. After all, he was still an impressionable kid.
“There’s always an expectation for a player who in year one comes in and has a good year – by whatever standard you measure that year – and there’s always a belief that in the next year they are going to be way above that,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “But with young players there’s a slower progression and sometimes our expectations are a little bit high.”
|Sean Couturier hopes that getting bigger and stronger over the summer translates to a better season on the ice. |
Those higher expectations last season were both internal with the Flyers organization, and external with fans and the media covering the team alike.
The Flyers wanted Couturier to blossom overnight into a second line center. He played a ton of minutes for the Adirondack Phantoms during the lockout, logging a lot of time on the first line, the power lay and the penalty kill.
And while Couturier continued to show an uncanny, elite understanding of the defensive side of the game, something usually lost on teenagers, his offensive game never sparked toward those expectations.
Sure, he put up decent numbers during his time in the AHL, posting 10 goals ad 18 assists for 28 points in 31 games, but he never really took over games at that level, as the Flyers had hoped.
Once he got to the big club, scoring seemed impossible for Couturier as he went through a 28-game drought without a goal.
“I just got to be patient,” Couturier said. “We have a lot of talent and ice time is going to be spread around, so I’m going to have to capitalize on my chances when I get ice time. I know I have the offensive tools. I just have to be patient and wait my turn.
“With last year not being such a great year I want to bounce back. This is going to be a huge year for my development and I want to take positive steps in that area.”
One of those positive steps would be to get bigger and stronger. Couturier wanted to add about 10 pounds of playing weight.
“I played at 200 last year but I’ve been working out hard this summer and trying to gain some weight and get stronger,” Couturier said. “Now I’m at 210. Now I’m ready for the upcoming season.
“I feel stronger on the puck. That’s something I needed to do as the years went by, so why not this summer?”
Couturier also hopes that the added strength will help his success in the faceoffs. If he can get more consistent on draws, the Flyers could end up with the best quartet of centers in the faceoff circle in the NHL.
Claude Giroux was among the league leaders in faceoff winning percentage last year, Adam Hall was even better (but didn’t have enough opportunities to qualify for the leader board) and Vinny Lecvavalier won draws at 51 percent for the Lightning.
“As the years go by, that’s one area of the game that I want to get better at,” Couturier said. “There are key times in a hockey game where you have to be able to fish out a puck in a draw and that’s something else I’m working on.”
Now entering his third season, Couturier knows he has something more to prove than ever before, and he believes he is ready. Couple that with the additions to the Flyers lineups, and Couturier thinks it’s going to be a special season.
“We have a great bunch of guys and a good mix,” he said. “It’s great to be here and we know we can have success as a core because we did it a couple years ago, we just have to go out there and prove it.”
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