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Flyers believe Couturier has earned top-line chance

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Sean Couturier was a longshot to make the Philadelphia Flyers' roster out of training camp, but just over two months into his NHL career, he finds himself filling a major role on one of the League's top teams.

With the NHL's leading scorer, Claude Giroux, sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, the 19-year-old Couturier -- the eighth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft -- is being asked to fill the void between Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr on the Flyers' top line.

Thursday's game against the Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET, NHL-US, TSN) will be his second in that role, and while some may be surprised to see a junior-age player in such a prominent position so soon on a top team, coach Peter Laviolette feels the rookie is ready for the added responsibility.

"Early on in training camp we had him killing 5-on-3's, we had him on the power play, we had him playing against other teams' top players," Laviolette said of Couturier. "After camp was over, I made a decision to not change that. He did everything as well as he could and we decided to start the season with the same responsibilities for him. He hasn't disappointed us."

19-year-old Sean Couturier is being asked to fill the void between Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr on the Flyers' top line. (Photo: Getty Images)
Couturier is trying not to make too much of the added responsibilities that suddenly have been thrust upon him in Giroux's absence, a situation that only will be magnified by playing in his native Quebec in front of family and friends.

"It's a tough player to replace, but I'll do my best," he said in French after practice Wednesday. "Those are two excellent players I'm playing with. That obviously makes things easier."

The ease with which Laviolette has been able to ask a rookie to step in and replace the top scorer in the NHL speaks to the depth of the Flyers' forwards and the luxury of keeping the other two scoring lines intact.

Canadiens coach Jacques Martin noted Wednesday that in terms of even-strength goals, the Flyers virtually are even across their top three lines, making match-ups a very difficult task for the Canadiens.

"I didn't feel like I was getting more (defensive attention) because they moved Couturier up with Hartnell and Jagr, and they were still getting the tough matchup as far as defenseman go," center Danny Briere said of the one game the Flyers have played since Giroux's injury, a resounding 5-1 win in Washington on Tuesday. "That's the beauty of our team. Because of the season Claude is having, he gets the primary defense on (his line), but you look at my line and (Wayne) Simmonds has 8 goals, I have 9 and Matt Read has 11. You go down to the other line and (James) van Riemsdyk and (Maxime) Talbot both have 8 goals. It's tough to focus on just one line. You can't have your two best defensemen playing 60 minutes."

Briere, who is serving as a mentor and landlord for Couturier, feels the rookie deserves this shot at a top-line spot.

"I think it's great experience for him," Briere said. "He obviously won't stay there all year, but he's earned it. In training camp he earned the right to be on the team, he started killing penalties and now he's one of the best penalty killers on the team. The coaches are not afraid to throw him out there at any time of the game. He's not going to hurt you. And now he gets to fill in with a bigger role offensively and it's well deserved. It's amazing as a 19-year-old that he's able to do that. I know I was far from ready at that age."
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