Sep 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) against the New Jersey Devils during preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Development of Sean Couturier

The Flyers drafted Sean Couturier with the 8th overall pick of the 2011 NHL entry Draft. They acquired this pick from Columbus, along with Jakub Voracek and Columbus’ 3rd round pick in 2011, for Flyers forward Jeff Carter.  Couturier is a 6’3”, 206lbs center who plays a solid two-way game.  Since making the Flyers out of his first training camp he has primarily played center on the third line behind Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn/Vincent Lecavalier.

In his rookie campaign, Couturier posted 13 goals and 14 assists (27 points) in 77 games while going +18.  This solid regular season performance was followed up by an equally impressive playoff series against Pittsburgh.  In the series, Couturier was tasked with shutting down Evgeni Malkin (the league MVP of the 2011-2012 season) which he did surprisingly well.  Couturier also showed off his offensive skill in the second game of the series, recording a hat trick.  They were Couturier’s only goals of the postseason and his one assist in that game stood alone as well.  He ended the postseason with four points in eleven games.

Couturier had a minor slump last season, recording four goals and eleven assists in 46 games and going -8.  Interestingly enough, his stats during this “slump” prorate out to roughly 7 goals and 20 assists in a full season, which would match his rookie point total.

There is little doubt among fans and experts that Couturier has the tools to be a great center in the NHL.  His defensive game is already sound and his offensive skills have shown flashes of brilliance.  His final two seasons in juniors he recorded 96 points each, in 68 and 58 games, respectively.  However, it would be wise for Flyers fans, and Flyers management, to continue to be patient with Couturier.  It is easy to put pressure on him right now to blossom into a second line center, but that may not be realistic.  He is still only 20 years old.  Here is a look at how some other highly touted center prospects fared, two non-Flyers and two Flyers, when they were 20 years old.

Nazem Kadri:  Kadri was the 7th overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  When he was 20 years old, the 2011-2012 season was set to begin.  That season Kadri only spent 21 games with Toronto , scoring five goals and notching two assists.  He spent 48 games that season with the Toronto Marlies (the Leafs AHL affiliate) and scored 18 goals with 22 assists for 40 points.  It was not until he was 22 in the shortened 2013 campaign (his birthday is October 6th) that Kadri blossomed into a (nearly) point per game center, recording 44 points in 48 games.

Logan Couture:  Couture was the 9th overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft by the San Jose Sharks.  As a 20 year old, Couture was entering the 2009-2010 NHL season.  That year, he played in 42 AHL games, recording 53 points, and 25 games for the Sharks, scoring 5 goals and adding 4 assists for 9 points.  It was not until the next season that Couture had a full time spot in the Sharks line up and scored 30 goals.

Mike Richards:  Richards was drafted by Philadelphia in 2003.  When he was 20 years old the 2005-2006 season was set to begin after a lockout canceled the 2004-2005 NHL season.  Richards was a rookie that year and he played in 79 games recording 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points.  These numbers are very similar to those that Couturier put up in his rookie year, but remember, Couturier was 18 and Richards was 20.  Richards did not blossom into a point per game, dependable center until two years later in the 2007-2008 season (75pts in 73 games) when he was 22 years old.

Claude Giroux:  Giroux was drafted by the Flyers in 2006.  When he was 20 years old the 2008-2009 season was beginning.  By that time Giroux had played two NHL games in the 2007-2008 season, but was sent to the Phantoms following training camp.  After playing 33 games for the Phantoms, Giroux joined the Flyers permanently and played the final 42 games of the regular season.  If it seems like Couturier is taking a long time to develop, just remember that Giroux was not even playing for the Flyers two years after he was drafted.

Every player develops at a different pace.  Every player has a different style of play.  Not every player listed above plays the same way that Couturier does and their style can effect their development.  My point is, Flyers fans should not be too worried that Couturier is still a third line center and that he is not a superstar right now.  If he continues to play on the third line and is never given an opportunity to move up, we may have a problem.  For right now, however, the Flyers have enough offensive weapons that they can afford to let Couturier develop at his own pace.

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Tags: Claude Giroux Logan Couture Mike Richards Nazem Kadri Philadelphia Flyers Sean Couturier

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