Couturier draws praise

Flyers' Jody Shelley , right, punches Leafs' Jay Rosehill.
Flyers' Jody Shelley , right, punches Leafs' Jay Rosehill. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 22, 2011

THE SIGNING of first-round draft pick Sean Couturier is more of a housekeeping move than an indication that the young center has a roster spot waiting for him.

But don't tell that to Couturier.

"Obviously, I needed a contract to make the team," he said. "Now that it's done, I still have to work hard and prove myself and hopefully I stay around."

The chances of Couturier staying around beyond training camp aren't as remote as maybe they were a week ago, though. He had a strong game on Tuesday in Toronto and general manager Paul Holmgren tossed a bouquet of verbal roses yesterday after the 3-year deal was made official.

"The one thing that makes him attractive to our coaches already is his ability to play in the defensive zone," Holmgren said. "In [Tuesday] night's game, we're killing a 5-on-3 and he's the guy that took the first faceoff. Obviously, there's a trust factor already with the coaches and how smart he is in the defensive zone. My experience, over the last number of years, is that young players who are good defensively have a better chance [to make the roster]."

The deal for the 18-year-old Couturier does not count against the 50-contract maximum yet. He can play up to nine regular-season games, and then would have two viable options. He could remain with the team or be sent back to his Junior League team (Drummondville) for the remainder of the season.

The Flyers could opt to send him to the Phantoms, but they would be wasting the first year of his deal since he could not be recalled to the parent club until Drummondville's season is over in the spring.

He will earn the rookie maximum of $925,000 plus up to $450,000 in bonus which makes his cap hit $1.375 million. That would be a lot to pay a minor leaguer.

Couturier was selected by the Flyers with the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, a selection they acquired from Columbus in the Jeff Carter deal. He still is growing into his 6-4 frame, which the Flyers are banking also will make him a more fluid skater. Couturier did not play last night as other prospects rotated into the lineup.

"Going back to a few guys in our organization," Holmgren said, "Justin Williams made our team as an [18-year-old] because he was pretty good defensively. Same with Simon Gagne [age 19]. Same with Dainius Zubrus [age 18]."

"There's no question that he's going to get bigger and stronger as he matures physically. But he's a pretty good-looking player right now," Holmgren continued. "Who knows what's going to happen down the road here, but we're happy to have him in the fold."

Game stuff

Tomas Hyka probably won't make the Flyers this year, but he's not walking away from his first training camp empty-handed.

Hyka (pronounced Hee-Ka), who was on a list of released players earlier in the week, scored a goal in last night's 4-2 exhibition loss to the Maple Leafs. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren blamed Hyka's release on a clerical error, and the team scurried to get him back before he got to the airport.

"It was my first goal in the NHL and I'm very happy," said the 18-year-old Czech native. "I hope I will score [in] another game."

The Flyers slogged for most of the game, except for a brief spell when Jody Shelley woke everybody up with an entertaining fight with Toronto's Jay Rosehill.

Shelley lost the bout, sustaining a cut above his right eye as Rosehill was coming to the aid of teammate Darryl Boyce, who Shelley had smeared into the boards. Shelley was tossed from the game.

But the Flyers killed off the boarding major Shelley received and punctuated it when Matt Read found Hyka - who served the penalty - coming out of the box for a breakaway goal. Don't tell these guys the preseason is meaningless, especially after Claude Giroux made sure to get the puck from referee Kelly Sutherland so Hyka would have a souvenir.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson scored the Flyers' other goal with a little over 2 minutes left in the contest.

Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, in his first game with the Flyers, saw 24 shots and made 21 saves. He was beaten stick side by Juraj Mikus in the first period and had no chance with deflections on the next two. Toronto salted it away with an empty-netter.

"I think it was a good test for me," Bryzgalov said. "I think I have some understanding where I'm at right now and what I need to fix."

Hold the Jagr

Jaromir Jagr likely will make his Flyers' debut tomorrow in Detroit. Coach Peter Laviolette opted not to play the 39-year-old free-agent signee last night, and visa problems are preventing him from traveling to New London, Ontario, for tonight's game, also against Detroit.

Ice cubes

Defensemen Oskars Bartulis and Erik Gustafsson and forwards Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read are the five players who've played in the Flyers first two preseason games. Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Andrej Meszaros and Kimmo Timonen were among the veterans making their preseason debuts last night . . . Regular Flyers beat writer Frank Seravalli remained in Toronto yesterday, and caught a foul ball at a Blue Jays game. For those who have absolutely no life, there's a picture of it on Frank's Twitter site.

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