Flyers' draft pick Couturier sets goal to make team

Sean Couturier, 18, has strong puck protection skills but needs to work on skating ability.
Sean Couturier, 18, has strong puck protection skills but needs to work on skating ability. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff photographer)
Posted: July 07, 2011

While most of the eyes, cameras and recorders were fixated on newly acquired forward Brayden Schenn and his first official workout in a Flyers uniform, another newcomer across the locker room has a pretty good chance of cracking the big club's Opening Night roster.

For Sean Couturier, who came to the Flyers as the No. 8 overall pick in last month's NHL draft, even sniffing a roster spot ahead of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards would have been impossible.

Then again, so would coming to the Flyers in the first round without those two shocking trades. The Flyers didn't even have a pick in the first round before Carter's trade.

Now, scanning the suddenly different depth chart, it's not so hard for Couturier to imagine himself in a Flyers uniform this season.

"My main goal is going to be to make the team," Couturier said yesterday as the Flyers opened their annual development camp in Voorhees. "When it comes to [training] camp, I'll just work hard and show what I got. It's going to be up to the staff to decide what they do with me."

One of his junior coaches, former Flyers defenseman Denis Gauthier, would love to have him back in Drummondville, Quebec, for a fourth season of major junior hockey.

But even Gauthier doesn't see that as a reality.

"I think he's got all of the tools to stay in Philadelphia," Gauthier said yesterday, in town to check up on his house in Haddonfield, N.J., which he rented to Brian Boucher last season. "I think he is ready. He is strong enough. I think it's just a matter of him coming into the right spot and having the role that works for him and his development."

Even if Couturier - who was born in Phoenix while his father, Sylvain, pursued a pro hockey career - can't crack the logjam at center that now includes camp roommate Schenn, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, Gauthier isn't sure another year in juniors will help him.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren admitted as much last month in Minnesota.

Couturier, 18, has already captured a Quebec league title, won the league scoring race and notched the best points-per-game ratio in the league. He has represented Canada in the prestigious World Junior tournament. He has posted 96 points in back-to-back years, despite playing in 58 games last year and 68 in the year prior.

"Honestly, I don't think we're planning to have Sean in the lineup [in Drummondville]," said Gauthier, who retired in 2009 after 10 NHL seasons and now doubles as an NHL analyst for French-language RDS in Canada. "I am sure that there are things that we could do to challenge him, but I personally think it's one of those situations where a player can get bored. He's a pro playing juniors."

Couturier's biggest knock was his skating ability. Scouting reports called his straight-line skating ability "average" and said he is subpar in transitional movement.

As a guest on Comcast SportsNet's "Daily News Live" yesterday, Couturier said his No. 1 goal for the summer is to add "explosiveness" to his game.

"He has a few things to work on," Gauthier said. "He can still work on his skating ability. He needs to get a little faster, he was very awkward his first year of junior. But his hands, his leadership, his game is great. He's a two-way guy, too. He's not afraid to go into the dirty areas; he'll pay the price to score.

"We'd even have to overplay him at times, because he can kill penalties, play on the power play and play against a top line."

Gauthier believes Couturier's stock falling in the draft, where he was once ranked No. 1 but ultimately slid to the Flyers at No. 8, was not because of an early-season bout with mononucleosis that caused him to miss training camp. Instead, he blamed overexposure. Couturier has been heavily scouted since he was 14.

"It's an overscouting effect when you see his faults because you've seen him so long," Gauthier said. "It's not fair, really. His development line was just not quite as pronounced as some of the other guys because scouts had been watching him so long."

One of Couturier's biggest assets, according to Gauthier, is his puck protection skills, which could help him ward off opposing players. He has a natural scoring touch that can't be beat.

Now, Couturier has a golden opportunity that he couldn't have dreamed of just a few weeks ago.

"Nothing would surprise me about him," Gauthier said. "For the Flyers to get him at No. 8, that's a steal in my eyes. He's a special player."

Slap shots

The development camp is being run by Ian Laperriere, Derian Hatcher, Riley Cote, Joel Bouchard and Jeff Reese. Sessions are open to the public today from 9-11:45 a.m. . . . Recently signed 6-7 goaltender Niko Hovinen, of Finland, missed Day 1 of camp with visa issues. He will arrive today but not in time for practice.

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

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers.

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