VOORHEES, N.J. — From the moment the Flyers drafted Sean Couturier, they had their sights set upon the talented lad from Phoenix to give them nothing less than 20 goals a season.
That’s because the 6-foot-3 centerman had posted 96 points in consecutive seasons of junior hockey at Drummondville.
Now entering his fifth season with the Flyers, Couturier has yet to score 20 goals and posted just 39 points last season, tying his career high.
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It wasn’t entirely his fault. The organization threw him into a shutdown centerman role from the get-go and despite subtle and then not-so-subtle pleas to up his offensive game and take on the role of a future Selke Trophy winner, Couturier’s best goal output was 15, two years ago.
But there’s hope and it comes in the form of rookie forward Travis Konecny, who is working the left side on Couturier’s line with Jakub Voracek on the right.
If ever the guy teammates call “Coots” is going to produce 20 goals or 60 points, he has a shot now because his two speedy linemates are offensively gifted players themselves.
And don’t think for a minute this wasn’t intentional, either. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol had this in mind from the second Konecny arrived in training camp.
“It has some of that effect … to that line, I saw a development of it last year in terms of the purpose Coots is playing with,” Hakstol said. “I thought his game on Saturday in Boston had that purpose. A real two-way purpose, but a hunger there offensively.
“There seems to be a good fit and a little bit of chemistry that’s developing between the three of them. There were a couple quick transitional plays that Coots was doing his job down low in our zone and initiating a quick transitional play with speed on the wings.”
Couturier has a sense of offensive purpose now, playing with two guys who are his equal or better in terms of speed and skill.
“Every day we’re kind of getting better,” Couturier said. “T.K. never played left wing before and it’s an adjustment for him. Every day he is getting more comfortable. Last game we looked good out there as a line.”
Couturier has heard the comparisons before that he has the innate ability to become a Mike Richards, who was a former Selke nominee for the Flyers. No one is asking him to become Patrice Bergeron, but Richards’ game as a Flyer is something of which he’s capable.
The only thing missing in Couturier’s game is an offensive mindset.
No one questions his shutdown ability defensively. He’s one of the league’s best. But if the Flyers are ever going to become a Stanley Cup contender again, he is among the players who has to take his game to that next level.
Konecny and Voracek can help him achieve that goal.
“Two wingers who are explosive skaters,” Couturier said. “They have a lot of speed. It’s fun to use them on the rushes. They can fly by the D-man. Just lay the puck behind them.”
Konecny downplayed his role.
“I’m still at the stage where I have to prove myself,” he said. “I know [Couturier] can do it, just practicing with him. Good defense always leads to good offense. That’s the best way to describe him. He has a scoring touch around the net.”
Couturier is impressed with Konecny, who scored 101 points last season (two clubs) in the OHL.
“It’s more of the way he plays,” Couturier said. “He goes to those dirty areas. He is not a big guy, but he’s not afraid to go to those areas, get dirty and make plays.”
Couturier is fully recovered from the high-ankle sprain he suffered in the second half of last season, as well as the devastating AC sprain in his left shoulder that knocked him out of the playoffs in Game 1 against Washington last spring.
He’s eager to make up for lost time and lost offense.
“Last year, I took a step forward,” he said. “Injuries kind of slowed me down a bit. I would have been on pace for a career high in everything [were it not for the ankle]. This year I want to keep going, keep pushing the pace. I am playing with two skilled guys.”
Now comes the but … he admits he still feels compelled to sacrifice offense to shut down the other team’s best forward.
“I have to be patient; I can’t force things,” Couturier said. “The way I play and who I play against, if I force too much, it can cost the team. I am willing to sacrifice points to help the team.
“But I want more points than the past few years … but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and think about 60-70 points. I still got to do what I have to do.”