There have been plenty of them over the years who have stuck in the craw of many Flyers and their fans.
In the 80s it was Dale Hunter in Washington. In the 90s it was Matthew Barnaby in Buffalo. In the 2000s it was Sean Avery – wherever he played and now it’s Brad Marchand in Boston.
Smallish players who have an ability to make your skin crawl with the way they play the game on the ice – toeing the line between dirty play and merely being a pest, it is these sandpaper types whose job it is to get the opposing players off their game.
The players find them annoying. The fans have so much venom, they’d prefer that each cretin be drawn and quartered – live on the JumboTron.
But now it appears the Flyers are grooming one of their own.
That’s because their top prospect is a kid with an edge. A mouthy little guy unafraid of retribution who also has an ability to score.
Meet Nick Cousins, the next great Flyers agitator.
“I’ve watched him play a bunch of times in the last year and I really like him because he reminds me of me,” said Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere. “He’s got more skill, but we play a similar type of game where he gets under your skin and draws a lot of attention on himself and handles it well. You need that on your team.”
And there’s a chance it won’t be long until we see Cousins on the Flyers.
The odds are pretty good that Cousins, 19, will be sent back to juniors following training camp, but he’s definitely a guy the Flyers brass is going to keep an eye on as well.
Originally a third round pick by the Flyers in the 2011 draft, Cousins blossomed last season by posting 88 points for the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in just 65 games. He also added 88 penalty minutes, evidence of that two-tiered approach to his game.
“Yeah, it’s part of my game, I’m not going to hide from it,” Cousins said about being a provocateur. “It’s the way I’ve always played – ever since I was little. I like to talk a lot out there and sometimes people don’t like to hear what I have to say.”
A sheepish grin immediately followed, letting you know Cousins doesn’t just yap as an emotional reaction, but very likely in a more calculated fashion.
It is this pre-meditated approach to hockey that makes him such a high-end prospect, but it has also gotten him on the wrong end of an opponent’s fury.
Last November, while playing the Greyhounds, Cousins’ team had just completed a thrilling 4-3 win over their rival London Knights in London.
As the horn sounded, rather than celebrate with his team, Cousins shut the puck into the empty net at the other end of the ice and then raised his arms in celebration after the puck went in.
Knights defenseman Ryan Rupert didn’t take too kindly to this act of showmanship and slashed Cousins in the stomach as he skated by. It earned Rupert a 20-game suspension, but more so than that, furthered Cousins already sizeable reputation as an agitator extraordinaire.
“Nick will get under your skin,” teammate Ryan Sproul told the London Free Press. “He’s the kind of guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against.
“You talk to guys and they say they can’t stand him, but he’s our best player and we're going to stand behind him.”
It’s because of this style of game that Cousins will likely draw attention to himself once training camp opens in September.
The Flyers faithful will love his spunk and spirit, and call for him to make the team as that loveable louse.
The media will gush all over about him, clamoring for him to make the team as the needed salt to rub in to the opponent’s wounds.
And while the impatience is there for everyone – Cousins included – he knows where he stands right now.
“You just try to block all that out,” he said. “If you put too much pressure on yourself you don’t play your style of game. You can get carried away with all the media hype, but coming in here I block that stuff out and do what got me here.
“My mindset going into camp is to do what I do best and be the player I am. Work hard, play my game and go in there with nothing to lose. If they keep me, great. If they send me back to junior, I do that for another year and try again next year.”
As for the anticipation of one day making it to the big club…
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Hopefully I have a future with this organization. I want things to fast forward a little bit, but I have to be patient and the Flyers have to be patient with my development. They’re not going to rush anything, neither am I and hopefully my time will come.”