"Obviously it's different," Cousins said the other day after the Phantoms practiced in Voorhees before playing at the Wells Fargo Center. "In juniors, you're playing with guys who are the same age or younger, and in the AHL, you're playing with guys who are a lot older and you're living on your own. It's been a big adjustment for me and the pace is a lot faster.
"It's been a humbling year so far."
Phantoms coach Terry Murray said Cousins and linemates Petr Straka and Brandon Alderson "have been our best line" at times, and have also played like "our fourth line." He called it a "roller-coaster ride" because of the young players' inconsistency.
Murray recently made Cousins and his linemates healthy scratches for one game.
"That was a teaching moment for me," Murray said. "You come back after a four-day all-star break, and they played well on a Friday night, and then we played Saturday in Albany and they were that fourth line I talked about. Not acceptable. And it was a teaching moment."
The Phantoms were in the process of playing games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
"Three in three, [if] you clearly don't have the energy to play in the second game, it's not going to be there in Game 3," Murray said. "Take a break, watch, get back, and get to work again - and respond to the meetings we had one on one, and they did. They came back and played well."
Murray said the 5-foot-11, 177-pound Cousins, who is known for his feisty play, was "a ways away, quite candidly," from reaching the NHL. "He's got to mature physically. There's a lot of strength and power that needs to be added to his body, and that's going to be an off-ice, summertime [mission]. He has a special ability, though, to make plays and find people in very tight spaces.
"A lot of guys can't make those little plays he can make, so I think it's just a matter of a process and going through the playing and the development - and it's going to take a couple years, and then we'll see where he's at."
Cousins was selected in the third round with a 2011 draft pick that was acquired as part of the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus. In August 2012, he and two Sault Ste. Marie teammates were charged with sexually assaulting a woman. The charges were dropped six months later.
Cousins said he has a "lot more in the tank to give. It's been an up-and-down year for me. I don't think I'm playing the way I can be playing. But at the same time, I'm still young. I'm only 20 years old and it's my first year as a pro, so I'm just trying to soak it all in and learn as much as I can.
"I've played 50 games in this league now, so being a young guy isn't an excuse anymore, and hopefully I can get her going in the last 20-some games," he added.
Pryor said it's difficult going from juniors to the AHL, "especially with what Terry Murray does at that level. Kids have to put the time in and work both sides of the puck at both ends. It's a lot of work for these kids. I won't say they've never done it, but they've probably always been expected to score, and now all of a sudden they have to pay attention to defense, too."