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Couturier stays the course despite adversity

by Mike G. Morreale
Not much has changed for Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier since learning he had earned the No. 2 rating among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm report earlier this month.

Then again, even if there was a change, you'd never know it.
Couturier, rated right behind No. 1-ranked Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers, is a pretty close-to-the-vest type of teenager. Like most teens, he has his quirks -- he likes pancakes with chocolate in the morning, considers math his academic strong suit, and has met New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur -- but stirring the pot is not on the list for this native of Bathhurst, New Brunswick.

It's just not his style -- at least off the ice.

On the ice, Couturier has become a fantastic two-way hockey player in a short period of time and that's what has so many scouts and general managers excited about his future. He has the pedigree and the resume to naturally attract attention. His ability to adapt to change, though, has certainly been a noticeable asset this season.

"I think adapting to change quickly is an asset of mine," Couturier told "You have to adapt yourself as fast as you can in order to perform well."

Couturier did that in Drummondville and also as a silver-medalist for Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., when he was the youngest -- and only draft-eligible -- player on the team. Canada lost to Russia in the gold-medal game earlier this month, surrendering five-straight goals in the third period of a 5-3 loss.

"The WJC was a great experience overall," Couturier said. "It was a sad ending … a bad ending. But I try and take the positives out of it. I think I learned a lot just being a part of it. It's fast hockey, it's the best in the world and just playing against the best, you get better. I think just adapting to the best, it went pretty good overall, so that's a good thing."

After notching only 9 goals and 31 points in 58 games during his inaugural season in Drummondville in 2008-09, Couturier led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 96 points in 68 games last season. He was the first 17-year-old to lead the league in scoring since Sidney Crosby of the Rimouski Oceanic did it in 2004-05 with 66 goals and 168 points in 62 matches.

Couturier's agent, former NHL defenseman Gilles Lupien, has compared his client to Hall of Fame forward Darryl Sittler. He's also been compared favorably to Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal.

"It's fun to be compared to those great players, but we still have our qualities and our own game abilities," Couturier said. "I try to learn from those great players."

Couturier has also been blessed with great coaching -- beginning with his father, Sylvain, the current general manager of the QMJHL's Acadie-Bathurst Titans. Sylvain, who was drafted No. 65 by Los Angeles in 1986, played 33 games with the Kings between 1988-89 and 1991-92.

"I've heard some stories about his time in Los Angeles," Couturier said. "His first goal was off an assist from (Wayne) Gretzky and his first assist was a goal by Gretzky, so that was pretty special."

In his first season with the Voltigeurs, Couturier was coached by current Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher.

"Guy was a great coach," Couturier said. "In that first year, I didn't know what to expect, but having Guy around made my (adaptation) that much better and he made me comfortable in Drummondville, so a lot of success comes from him.

"The thing is, I didn't have a whole lot of ice time, but Guy still kept me positive and made me a better player. He just told me to get better every day and that's what I did because the next year was a lot better."

In addition to Boucher's impact, the 6-foot-4, 193-pound left-handed center also received a tremendous boost of confidence in 2007-08 with the Notre Dame Hounds. There, Couturier played alongside Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis, No. 14, 2010) and Brandon Gormley (Phoenix, No. 13, 2010) for the Saskatchewan Midget AAA championship team.

"It was a great experience and good for me leaving home at such a young age," he said. "It was kind of tough at the start, but I think it made me a better person … living away builds character. It helped me when I got to juniors because the transition was easier."

Even though he's not the top-ranked player in North America, according to Central Scouting, Couturier still has his share of admirers.

"He's a really good player … he's big and strong and really good on the puck," Saint John Sea Dogs forward Tomas Jurco said. "He protects the puck and moves very well."

"He can be first or second overall," Victoriaville Tigres captain Phillip Danault told "He can shoot the puck and protect it. He has speed -- all the teams want this player on their team."

On Wednesday, Couturier participated in the Top Prospects Game at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. As the captain for Team Cherry, he managed one shot on goal in a 7-1 loss. It certainly wasn't the type of finish he envisioned.

"I think it went OK," he said. "I tried not to do too much, be too fancy. I tried to keep it simple and it went OK." His counterpart, Team Orr captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, rated No. 3 by Central Scouting, notched two assists and was named the team's most valuable player.

"Sean has excellent puckhandling and playmaking ability," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told "He sees the ice and reads the play very well. The top prospects game was far from his best outing but he's extremely smart and gets himself into good scoring position. He plays a solid two-way game and is very responsible defensively."

Couturier knows the rankings are out of his control, but there's always a chance of reaching the top once again at the final ratings release in April.

"I'm looking forward to the draft but pretty nervous and anxious to see where I'm going to go," he said. "For sure, though, when the season ends in Drummondville, I'll be looking to get it over and done with in order to get focused for the next season."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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