Flyers prospect Nick Cousins loves being a pest

Posted: July 11, 2012

Nick Cousins remembers that day last November, when he sent a long shot into an empty net after the buzzer had sounded, an exclamation point to a game that already was over.

His hands shot up in celebration and he skated into Ryan Rupert, a forward on the opposing team.

Rupert pulled his stick back and swung it like a baseball bat into the stomach of Cousins, who fell to the ice. Rupert tossed his stick up, dropped his gloves, and delivered a couple of punches to the head of Cousins, still facedown on the ice. Benches cleared.

"Ryan Rupert is all over Cousins and we have a melee at center ice," the team broadcaster said, his voice rising in a call that lives on with more than 38,000 views on YouTube

Cousins has learned a lot since that day. Namely that he's good at what he does.

"I saw Nick play about eight times last year, and every time at the end of the game somebody always tries to take his head off," said Ian Laperriere, director of player development for the Flyers. "Every game, I walk downstairs to go see him and shake his hand, and I'm like, 'I don't know what you say to those guys, but they all want to kill you.' To me, it's great."

Cousins, who will turn 19 next week, is widely regarded as the Flyers' top prospect. After being drafted in the third round in 2011, Cousins put up 88 points in 65 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League. But he knows his role isn't likely to be a point-per-game NHL player. He's a natural agitator.

"That's a huge part of my game," Cousins said. "I grew up doing it. I just know how to get under people's skin - the kind of guy you love to have on your team, but hate to play against."

Think of a player in the mold of Boston's Brad Marchand - a small forward who has some offense to his game, but makes a living as an instigator - someone Cousins proudly compares himself to.

That's why weeks like this one are important for Cousins' development as he works on the other tools necessary to bring him to Philadelphia. On the second day of prospects camp at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, workouts were separated into defensemen, forwards, and goalies. Players spent more time working on skills in individual drills than they had spent on Monday.

"He's here to work on his skills," said Derian Hatcher, the Flyers' player-development coach. "He's a top prospect. He should feel like he needs to come out here and play better than everyone else."

The 5-foot-11, 177-pound Cousins is likely at least a year away from joining the Flyers. He knows he has work to do.

"I need to work on my defense and my skating," Cousins said.

Laperriere understands what he is going through. Laperriere, too, was a point-per-game forward in junior hockey, but as he progressed early in his professional career, he realized he wasn't going to be an elite offensive threat and began to focus on other parts of his game.

The advantage for Cousins is that he's already known as an agitator, someone who could develop into a third-line grinder in the NHL.

"At one point he's going to have to make that decision," Laperriere said. "I can't go up to tell him to change his game. He's going to have to [ask], 'Can I keep up with those guys?' "

He'll quickly find out whether his offense is good enough to keep up. But he does know he's good at getting under the skin of people. He found that out during a November juniors game as he was lying facedown on the ice.

Helpful vet. Oliver Lauridsen's first Flyers prospect camp was in 2009, when many of the players at this year's camp were still new to the teenage years.

The 6-6, 2009 seventh-round pick, who spent last season with the AHL's Phantoms, is still open to learning something new here.

"There's always something you can learn," he said. "The coaching staff we've got around this camp is amazing. They've got - what? - 5,000 NHL games combined."

At this camp, he has turned into a go-to veteran. Only three players here are older. None has been to as many Flyers prospect camps.

"There's a couple of guys [who have asked for advice]," he said. "I've been here so long now that I kind of know what's going on."

Stevens in the house. Former Flyers head coach John Stevens, an assistant with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, was watching camp Tuesday. His son John is an 18-year-old forward.


Contact Chad Graff at cgraff@philly.com or 215-854-4550. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGraff.

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