Inside the Flyers: Flyers show rookies Sean Couturier and Matt Read a vote of confidence

Posted: October 09, 2011

NEWARK, N.J. - Based on their seven exhibition games and their season-opening, 2-1 win in Boston on Thursday, maybe the Flyers slogan should be, "The Kids Are All Right."

It's unusual to thrust a rookie onto the penalty-killing units, but that's what coach Peter Laviolette did with forwards Sean Couturier and Matt Read - and both were effective in the hard-fought victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Couturier, who is just 18, played more time on the penalty kill (4 minutes, 34 seconds) than any other Flyers forward except veteran Max Talbot (5:45). Read played nearly three minutes on the PK and almost scored a shorthanded goal.

In addition, Couturier was on the ice in the game's waning seconds as coach Peter Laviolette showed confidence in the kid.

Feisty fourth-line winger Zac Rinaldo, who could be sent to the AHL Phantoms after Jody Shelley serves his five-game suspension, also contributed. That gave the Flyers three rookies in a season opener for the first time since 1993.

All three are getting adjusted to the travel grind and, most important, the speed of the NHL game.

"They did their job very well," general manager Paul Holmgren said before Saturday's game against the Devils in Newark. "Zac did his job; he ran into some people and got pucks out and got pucks deep. I thought Sean did a good job on the line, and killing penalties. And Matt showed his speed and made some plays. All three were very encouraging."

In effect, Couturier - one of nine first-round picks from the June draft who is on an NHL roster - is with the Flyers on a nine-game tryout. If he plays in his 10th game, this season counts as one of the three on his entry-level deal.

But Laviolette said he wasn't using him in key junctures as an experiment - that is, to find out if he's ready to stay in the NHL or should be sent back to juniors.

Quite simply, he's using Couturier, as he did in the closing seconds of Thursday's tight game, because the 6-foot-4, 191-pounder shows poise beyond his years.

"If I didn't have the confidence in him, based on what we've seen, I wouldn't have gone trial-and-error in the last two minutes of a 2-1 game," Laviolette said. "We put him out there because he's done the job and has been very responsible with his actions on the ice."

"It's hard to believe he's 18," center Claude Giroux said. "He doesn't play like it."

"Sean's a late birthday. He's played three years in junior already," said captain Chris Pronger, aware that Couturier turns 19 on Dec. 7. "I was a late birthday when I got drafted, so you're a little older, a little more mature. There are a lot of different factors, but at the end of [his nine games], you have to make a decision whether the guy is ready or not."

Pronger was impressed with Couturier's debut, especially with his defensive play.

As for Couturier, he downplayed the nine-game "tryout."

"I try to do what I can do each game; that's what I've done since Day 1 of training camp," said Couturier, whose parents will travel to the Flyers home opener Wednesday against Vancouver. "Keep going one game at a time. I'm just enjoying myself now and trying to do what I can do to get better and help the team."

If Couturier doesn't look NHL-ready, super-prospect Brayden Schenn is waiting in the wings with the AHL Phantoms, itching to join the Flyers. Schenn's cap hit has been lowered - from $3.1 million to $1.69 million - because he cannot earn some bonuses by playing 82 games with the Flyers this season. (The bonuses were set in the contract written by Schenn's former team, the Kings.)

Reducing the cap hit was one of the reasons Schenn was sent to Adirondack. So was the fact he missed the last two preseason games because of a shoulder injury. The Flyers want him to play more games.

That said, Couturier had a stronger camp than Schenn and deserved to make the team. Whether he remains depends on how things go in the next few weeks.

"There's no definitive time" for when Schenn is recalled, Holmgren said. "I would say at some time he'll be up. We'll continue to monitor things."

Translation: The early-season development of Read and Couturier will probably determine how long Schenn stays in the AHL. For the Flyers, it's a win-win situation. If Couturier and Read continue to show progress, all is well. But if one of those impressive third-line rookies doesn't look quite ready for a full NHL season, they have a gifted AHL player waiting his turn.

Not many franchises have a minor-league player such as Schenn - whom some national publications projected as the league's rookie of the year - ready to make an impact.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com

or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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