It may surprise you to learn that Philadelphia Flyers
rookie Sean Couturier
is among the team leaders in several major categories.
On top of that, he's usually given the task of playing against the opposing team's top line. Some might view that as a daunting role, especially for a 19-year-old in his first professional season -- but Couturier isn't one of them.
"It's a great challenge playing against the best on the other team and trying to shut them down ... not give them too much space," Couturier told NHL.com. "I take pride in what I do, so whatever I can do to help the team, I'll do it."
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It's that mentality that has made Couturier such a natural fit for Philadelphia. And when the Flyers' brass had an opportunity to draft him with the eighth choice of the 2011 Entry Draft, which they obtained from the Columbus Blue Jackets
courtesy of the Jeff Carter
deal last June, there was no hesitation.
Couturier was considered by many to be the front-runner to be the top pick prior to the 2010-11 season. But his season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was overshadowed by other players, coupled with a bout of mononucleosis in the summer leading into the season, dropped him on some boards.
When NHL Central Scouting voted to determine their top 10 during its final meetings in Toronto last year, the overwhelming theme was that the five players ahead of Couturier earned their positions with superior play over the second half of the season. Couturier, the No. 6-rated North American skater, remained consistently steady.
At that time, then-NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire said, "If he falls all the way to No. 6, and somebody grabs him and he does recover more fully from his draft year mononucleosis -- I mean, they may have the best player in the draft at No. 6."
Obviously, the Flyers couldn't be happier about seeing Couturier available at No. 8, as the 6-foot-3, 197-pound center forward has excelled in his two-way role under the tutelage of coach Peter Laviolette
"I don't think it's an unusual thing to see a first-year forward with his defensive ability, but there's always that learning process," Laviolette said. "He came here with a good skill set on how to play the game ... he's a smart hockey player. The assistant coaches have done a good job with him, showing him the video, and he's developed a nice progression throughout the year."
Couturier, always tough on the puck and very reliable in his own end during his junior-hockey time, is ranked among the top 10 on the Flyers in hits (10th, 73), takeaways (second, 38), face-off wins (third, 305), face-offs taken (third, 648), plus/minus rating (second, plus-17) and shooting percentage (eighth, 12.1 percent). He's certainly learned to make the most of his 13:41 of ice time each game, including 2:43 on the penalty kill -- second among the team's forwards.
Center - PHI
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 24
SOG: 99 | +/-: 17
"Since Day 1 I've been getting more and more comfortable," Couturier said. "The veterans have helped me. Pete (Laviolette) has given me a lot of opportunities and he seems to have confidence in me. I just try to do my best when I'm out there and don't try and change my style. I'm a two-way forward and I take care of the little details; that's my strength."
In addition to taking care of details, he's also proven to be a contributor on offense despite spending most of the season centering the third or fourth line. Couturier, the first 18-year-old to earn a spot on Philadelphia's opening-night roster since defenseman Luca Sbisa
in 2008, has 12 goals and 24 points in 68 games. Those might not be the type of statistics that earn a player Calder Trophy consideration, but he certainly has earned the respect of his teammates.
"He's been unbelievable," Flyers defenseman Matt Carle
told NHL.com. "He doesn't look like the biggest guy off the ice, but he's strong on his skates, with his stick and on the puck. Those qualities allow him to play such a strong defensive game for us, and when we had a few injuries this year, you could see the offensive upside with him as well. He's got all the tools ... it's just a matter of time before he develops into an even better player."
In his final season with Drummondville, Couturier not only was voted the league's Best Professional Prospect, but also was named its MVP after totaling 36 goals and 96 points in 58 games. It was his second-straight season with 96-point season, despite playing 10 fewer games than he did in 2009-10.
What has surprised Laviolette the most?
"I love the fact he went head-to-head with (Pittsburgh's Evgeni) Malkin (on Sunday) and did a pretty nice job," Laviolette said. "I talked to him after the game about it, and know how large a task it was. Malkin is one of the top players in the world and he went shift-for-shift with him, as did his entire line."
Couturier earned 20:45 of ice time -- his second-highest total of the season -- in his team's 3-2 overtime victory against the Penguins on Sunday. He didn't register a point, but did have two takeaways while winning six of 11 faceoffs. He wasn't on the ice when Malkin scored with less than a minute remaining in the second to give his team a 2-0 lead.
"He seems to be getting better and more comfortable, and with that experience he's getting, he's growing and becoming more developed as season moves on," Laviolette said.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale