Pending RFA Nick Cousins Must Earn His Keep With Flyers

Nick Cousins and Ron Hextall used the exact same word.

It was apparent the two knew the groundwork ahead for the offseason.

Cousins, a pending restricted free agent, likely isn't going anywhere despite the ultimate unknown.

"There's been no talks yet, so I sort have no idea what's going on next," Cousins said last week at Flyers Skate Zone during his end-of-the-season press conference.

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Does he figure into the Flyers' plans?

"I don't know if that's a question for me to answer," Cousins said. "I think that's a question for [Hextall]. We'll see. I guess we'll see in the next couple of months here."

Hextall and Cousins echoed one another when discussing the young forward's status entering the 2016-17 season. The only aspect missing was a definitive yes or no to Cousins' return, but the future looks clear, not cloudy.

"[Cousins] did a good job for us but he's not an established NHL player, so he's got to come back in training camp and earn it," the Flyers' general manager said last week. "That's probably no different than we expected, but in saying that, he showed a lot of good things. He's extremely competitive, he's a smart player, a responsible player. He did a good job for us but he's got to come back in training camp and show us he's ready to earn a spot."

Message received.

"You've got to earn everything you get," Cousins said.

Shayne Gostisbehere, a Calder Trophy finalist, is the prime example for the Flyers.

"You saw Ghost earn what he did this year, it's unbelievable," Cousins said. "He ran the power play really effectively and I think as a young guy, I think that's what you've got to do coming into the league is make the coach trust you when you're on the ice. Ghost did that. I think we both did that at certain times this year."

Cousins will be just 23 years old on July 20 and looks to be a building block to the Flyers' current construction. Last season, Cousins had a cap hit of $842,500, according to Spotrac

He's one of the many up-and-coming, inexpensive centers in the Flyers' system.

After making his NHL debut in 2014-15 and playing 11 games, Cousins received the call back to the Flyers on Feb. 5, playing in 36 regular-season games in which he totaled six goals and five assists with just four penalty minutes for a plus-5 rating.

"I just think coming in here, obviously getting called up in February and getting thrown right into the fire, as a player you sort of love that stuff," he said. "I think I've come a long way from last year. There are still areas in my game that I need to improve and I'm working on that.

"I'm already looking forward to next year, coming to camp and being ready to go."

The more Cousins played, the more he gained from Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol.

"I can't thank him enough for the trust he had when I was on the ice," Cousins said. "It's all about opportunities."

It resulted in Cousins' playing all six playoff games.

"The intensity is that much better and the pace is that much quicker," Cousins said. "It's huge experience for me and it was definitely fun."

At 5-foot-10, 188 pounds, Cousins wants to take his speed to new heights.

"I need to improve on my skating a little bit," he said. "I'm not the biggest guy, but I need to be a little bit faster. That's where I'm trying to improve in.

"We play a pretty aggressive style and that sort of suits my game. That's the way I like to play."

Last Tuesday, Cousins had just walked out of his exit meeting with Hextall and Hakstol.

He left excited for what's next.

"I just talked to Hexy and Hak and I think they're on the same page as me," he said. "It's going to be a big summer."

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