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Centres of Sens' attention: Sean Couturier

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Though he's slipped in the recent rankings, Drummondville Volitgeurs centre Sean Couturier is still considered a prime prospect for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images).

(The Ottawa Senators hold the No. 6 overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. The Sens have targeted four centres among the prospects they're hopeful will be available when that first-round pick rolls around. We take a closer look at them all this week in a series of profiles for ottawasenators.com).

Once upon a time, Sean Couturier was considered a prime candidate to be the top pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

It was easy enough to see why. At 6-4 and 197 pounds, the Drummondville Voltigeurs centre offers an impressive physical package. The 18-year-old from Bathurst, N.B., plays strong on the puck, is proficient in the faceoff circle and brings a solid skill set and work ethic to the table.

"At his size, he'll be hard to pass up in the draft," admits Chris Bordeleau, NHL Central Scouting's chief scout covering the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "He possesses a very good work ethic and he's out there for every important faceoff. He's very responsible in the defensive aspect of his game — a rare quality for such a young player in junior hockey."

In 2009-10, Couturier led the QMJHL in scoring (41-55-96), becoming the first 17-year-old to do so since a guy named Sidney Crosby turned the trick with the Rimouski Oceanic five years earlier. Couturier was also the lone draft-eligible player on Team Canada's silver-winning squad at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo.

So given all that, why did Couturier slip from second at mid-season to sixth in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of North American prospects for the 2011 draft, set for June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn.?

"I don't really know," Couturier said when asked that question during a recent visit to Ottawa to meet with the Senators' scouting staff in advance of the draft. "Each team has their own (ranking) list and that's the way I think. Whatever a team's going to look for, they'll pick whoever they want (to fill that need). I can't really control that."

Bordeleau suggested Couturier's falling stock is more a case of other players stepping up in a bigger way toward the end of the season. Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rose to the top position in Central Scouting's final rankings, surpassing mid-season leader Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers.

"Sean Couturier is a good hockey player, but there were (other) players who got better," Bordeleau told NHL.com. "This was Sean's third year in the league and Nugent-Hopkins is such a great, skilled player, so there's nothing you can do about that. As a group (at Central Scouting), we all feel Gabriel Landeskog will probably play in the NHL next year — he's ready.

"We have Nathan Beaulieu and Jonathan Huberdeau (both of the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs), who have both taken giant steps and improved immensely. Huberdeau has NHL hands right now ... Yes, Couturier is sixth, but it doesn't mean the sixth guy couldn't go first or the first guy go sixth. We're just projecting that these guys will play in the NHL."

That's exactly where Couturier has wanted to be for a lot of years now.

"Since I'm young, I've dreamed of playing in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup," said Couturier, whose father Sylvain played 33 games with the Los Angeles Kings between 1988-89 and 1991-92 and is now the general manager of the QMJHL's Acadie-Bathurst Titan. "It would be pretty special."

Couturier, who likens his own play to brothers Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Eric Staal of the Hurricanes, isn't fussy about when and where that happens.

"Wherever you're drafted, once you get to training camp, you still have to prove yourself," he said. "Wherever I go, I'll be happy."

So will the team choosing him, according to NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards.

"Sean has excellent puckhandling and playmaking ability," said Edwards. "He sees the ice and reads the play very well. He's extremely smart and gets himself into good scoring position. He plays a solid two-way game and is very responsible defensively."

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who had Couturier for one season in Drummondville, doesn't doubt he'll shine in the NHL someday.

"He's not just a terrific athlete, but individual," Boucher told NHL.com. "He's first in his class at school with over a 90-percent average … he's an extremely bright hockey player. He sees the game at a slow pace like the top guys do, and his puck protection is incredible.
 
"You don't take the puck off of him. He's a big centre who wins the faceoffs and is extremely reliable defensively. When he was 16, I had to push him to go offence because he wanted to be so reliable defensively. He has great vision and is slowly building up his speed … he's going to be a terrific NHL player."

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