Sean Couturier has never been one to take things for granted during his 13 years in the National Hockey League. He's always understood how much continuous work goes into achieving longevity in the game, and just how delicate and fragile one's career can be for circumstances beyond a player's control. 

Even so, after missing a season-and-a-half while undergoing two surgeries on his back and a protracted rehabilitation process, the Flyers' 31-year-old captain has gained more profound appreciation for what each and every day in the NHL -- and as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers -- means to him.

"I don't take anything for granted—not that I did before, but you try to enjoy every moment as much as you can through the ups and the downs," Couturier said on April 5 after learning that the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has selected him as  its 2023-24 nominee for the Masterton Trophy.

The trophy, named in honor of the late Bill Masterton, recognizes one player who has represented the qualities of perseverance and dedication to hockey. If Couturier is selected as the leagewide winner this season, he will become the fifth Flyer to win the honor. Previous winners include Bobby Clarke, Tim Kerr, Ian Laperriere and Oskar Lindblom. 

Couturier was drafted by the Flyers in the summer of 2011 when Laperriere won the Masteron for his professional and dignified handling of career-ending post-concussion syndrome after an horrific on-ice injury and return during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. Laperriere, now the head coach of the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms, spent eight years as a Flyers assistant coach.

Couturier remembers even better what former teammate Oskar Lindblom went through in 2019 and 2020 after being diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma. Lindblom underwent rib removal surgery and an arduous course of chemotherapy before renewing his professional hockey career. 

The experiences of Laperriere and Lindblom, especially the latter, made a strong impression on Couturier. So, too, did the combination of family grief and personal injury trevails experienced by 2021-22 Masterton finalist Kevin Hayes. Only one honoree is chosen each year but every nominee is worthy.

"I think we each have our own stories—different backgrounds, different stories, different adversities to go through. We each have our own stories. I guess that's how you go through it and approach it, and I think it would be a great honor to win it next to Oskar. Each nominee really has their own story, their own things they go through, it's not really that one's more important than the other, it's just how you get through it," Couturier said.

In Couturier's case, the player concedes that there was a point in his lengthy recovery process -- particularly when the first surgery did not sufficiently correct the issue with his back and he had to undergo a surgical revision of the original procedure -- that doubt of a successful return creeped into his mind.

"It was definitely tough when it happened the second time. The first time, I wasn't too worried, I was just like, 'OK, done for the year, I'll be back next year, it's time to get ready for next season.' But then when that kind of got taken away from me right before camp, that was kind of tough to accept. I started having doubts and questions about, 'Is this going to just keep coming back every time?'" Couturier recalled.

Couturier, a two-time 30-goal scorer and two-time Selke Trophy finalist (winner in 2019-20), has always been a self-motivated hockey player who holds himself to the highest standards. 

This season, through his first 40 games played, Couturier posted 29 points and averaged 20:03 of ice time per game. Although he's dealt with other injuries since mid-season -- which he never uses as an excuse for a production downturn and reduced ice time -- Couturier's back has held up well through the season.

"I'm glad that the second surgery and everything went well, I recovered well. I'm just happy that it's behind me now and I can just focus on playing hockey and enjoying playing the game that I've been playing since I was a kid. Just really happy to be back playing hockey at a high level," Couturier said.

The player acknowledged that the last couple months have been trying on the ice. But he's tried to keep the big picture in mind. 

"I'm just trying to stay focused and enjoy the game through the grind and the downs," Couturier said.

Taken in the whole, Couturier's return to the ice this season has been a big positive both for the Flyers as a team and the player as an individual. He had to deal not only with the physical aspects of his rehabilitation process but also the mental and emotional aspects, too.