Flyers make Couturier their center of attention

Team Canada's Sean Couturier moves to net against Team USA in world juniors in December.
Team Canada's Sean Couturier moves to net against Team USA in world juniors in December. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 25, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - With the No. 8 overall pick in last night's NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers were fully prepared to settle on a defenseman who could be the future of their defense corps.

That was until Sean Couturier fell in their lap.

Instead, as the newly reincarnated Winnipeg Jets went off the board to pick Mark Scheifele with their first selection in nearly 15 years, the Flyers' draft contingent in Minnesota was smiles all around.

The Flyers ended up with Couturier, a 18-year-old center who was once ranked as the No. 1 overall North American-born skater by NHL Central Scouting, only 1 day after trading centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in deals that included the pick.

"You never know what's going to happen," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "We had him high on our list, like in the range where we ended up picking. But every team likes different guys, so you never know what can happen. We're very happy we were able to draft him with the eighth pick. All of our [scouts] like him."

Couturier is the Flyers' highest first-round draft pick since James van Riemsdyk went No. 2 in 2007. The draft will resume today in Minnesota with Rounds 2-7 beginning at 11 a.m. on the NHL Network.

Holmgren said he thinks Couturier, the son of former NHLer Sylvain Couturier, fell a few spots because of a sluggish start to the season. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis after the Canadian junior camp.

"I think it really set him back and zapped him of some of his strength," Holmgren said. "He struggled earlier in the year, but still managed to bounce back and still had a good year offensively on one of the better junior teams in the Quebec league."

Couturier racked up 96 points in only 58 games, finishing tied for fourth in scoring in the Quebec Minor Junior Hockey League. He also helped bring home a silver medal for Canada in the World Championships, alongside fellow new Flyer Brayden Schenn, whom the Flyers acquired Thursday from Los Angeles as part of the deal for Mike Richards.

Now, ironically, the two could become the Flyers' next version of Richards and Carter.

"I never really had time to think about that," Couturier said last night. "I was just enjoying the moment. I'm really happy to be a part of the Philadelphia Flyers. They have a lot of history. It's a great team. I'm looking forward to being part of it."

Like Holmgren, Couturier said he was prepared for anything - even though he acknowledged he was nervous once he arrived at the Xcel Energy Center early in the afternoon. Couturier ended up as the fifth-best skater in the Central Scouting's final rankings in June.

"Not really," Couturier said when asked whether he was surprised he slid to No. 8. "Anything can happen once you get to training camp. It's a whole different story. My main goal is going to be to try to make a spot on the roster."

Analysts were quick to call the Flyers' newest prospect a steal. At 6-4 and 195 pounds, he already has a pretty good-sized frame that is expected to expand to 6-5 and up to 225 pounds.

The scouting reports list him as a solid, two-way forward with good penalty killing capabilities. His one weakness, which some scouts say can be overexaggerated, is his skating.

Couturier isn't exactly fleet of foot, though his straight-line skating is said to be around average. It's skating laterally and while pivoting that could keep him from cracking the lineup this fall.

"He's a well-rounded player right now at his age," Holmgren said. "He's a competent player in his own zone, and he obviously has some offensive pop in his game."

Holmgren said he would leave it up to Couturier to answer when he would be ready to join the Flyers. It isn't out of the question that the Flyers would give him a strong look this training camp, with so many spots open at the forward position.

That's fine with Couturier, who is expected to appear first at the Flyers' development camp starting next month.

"I think it's going to be up to me to work hard this summer and show what I've got," he said. "I can't control their decision after that. We're going to work hard from here on and try and be ready for camp. When we get there, I just want to show what I've got."

With a lottery pick suddenly in their hands on Thursday, the Flyers spent the bulk of that day interviewing top prospects, including Couturier.

"It felt pretty special knowing that they had just moved up," said Couturier, who was born in Phoenix. "I didn't really know what to expect."

With the Flyers' first first-round pick since 2008, Couturier has a lot to live up to, considering he was a big part of Carter's deal. But if he is anything like the Flyers' other nine first-round picks since 2000, all of whom are still playing in the NHL, he will be just fine.

"Personally, I need to get a little bit stronger, overall physically and improve a bit in my explosiveness and skating," Couturier said. "There's still a lot of work to be done." *

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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