Flyers Couturier, Gustafsson spur youth movement

Posted: November 07, 2011

Even though he has been used primarily as a penalty-killer and third- or fourth-line center, Sean Couturier has climbed among the rookie leaders in several offensive categories - and has probably made several teams second-guess themselves for bypassing him in last June's draft.

Couturier slipped to No. 8 - the first-round pick the Flyers acquired as part of the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus - but in the season's first month he has looked like a future star.

In 13 games, Couturier has five goals, which, entering Sunday, was second among NHL rookies. It was one fewer goal than another 18-year-old center, Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall draft pick in June. Couturier topped all rookies with a plus-9 rating.

"He continues to play solid hockey at both ends of the ice," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said after Couturier's first two-goal game aided Saturday's 9-2 romp over the hapless Blue Jackets. "Defensively, penalty kill, he does the right things. Offensively, he got some opportunities and cashed them in. He's been really strong."

The Flyers have never had a Calder Trophy winner, but Couturier is a rookie-of-the-year candidate, along with teammate Matt Read (three goals, four assists), who is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday against host Tampa Bay after being sidelined for three games because of an injury.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, another Flyers rookie, raised some eyebrows with a plus-6 rating in the spanking of Columbus.

"He was on the ice for a lot of positive things," Laviolette said. "He's played really well since he's been called up. He moves the puck so well. I think over the summer he picked up a step in speed, picked up some added muscle, and he looks really strong on the ice."

Gustafsson is playing like he deserves to remain as the Flyers' sixth defenseman - even after Chris Pronger returns from an eye injury.

In just his fifth NHL game of the season and eighth of his career, Gustafsson had the highest plus rating for a Flyers rookie since 1984, when Thomas Eriksson was plus-8. He also had an assist, his first career point.

"It's a great feeling, obviously, but the most important thing is for the team to win, and it was a really great team effort. I think everyone showed up," Gustafsson said.

The Flyers (8-4-2) took just a 3-3-2 home record into Saturday's game at the Wells Fargo Center.

"We were real fired, up and we wanted to have a good game in front of our fans," said Gustafsson, 22. "I think we've been playing a little bit, maybe, soft and not hard enough the last couple of games, and we wanted to come out strong and it carried over to the second.

With each game, Gustafsson - who played a team-high 23 minutes, 9 seconds on Saturday - seems to be getting more confident.

"Absolutely. You come up here and you play with these big guys you've been watching on TV all of your life," he said. "I think it's normal to get nervous, so the more you get to be around here and the more you play, the more comfortable you get."

It wouldn't be surprising if Gustafsson stayed in the defensive rotation when Pronger returned and 36-year-old Andreas Lilja became the odd man out. Lilja had four hits and was plus-1 on Saturday.

Breakaways. The Flyers did not practice Sunday; they play Tampa Bay Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., starting a six-day stay in Florida that also includes a Sunday game against the Panthers. . . . Pronger, who has missed six games, will make the trip and may play Wednesday.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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