Only one year ago, Philadelphia Flyers fans were excited about the future of Nick Cousins. Although it was common knowledge that he would spend the 2013-2014 season in the AHL, the long term potential of the chippy prospect excited the fan base.
Now, there is little excitement surrounding Cousins. He had a statistically bad rookie season with the Phantoms and has been written off by many people. However,when looking at both his history and his context, it may not be quite so easy to write him off.
The 2011 3rd round pick that resulted in Nick Cousins was received in the Jeff Carter trade. The Flyers received Jakub Voracek, a 1st round pick (Sean Couturier), and a 3rd round pick (Cousins). At the time of being drafted, Cousins was already a point per game player in the OHL playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (68pts in 68 games during 2010-2011). He spent the next two seasons in the OHL recording 88pts (65GP) and 103pts (64GP) respectively. In his final junior season, 2012-2013, Cousins was 3rd in the OHL scoring race.
That season inflated the expectations of Cousins going into last year. The 5’11″, 190lbs center was expected to carry his offensive prowess over to the AHL.
In short, he didn’t.
His 11 goals and 18 assists (29pts) in 74 games were much less than expected. Cousins rarely played top six minutes and had what many considered an “up and down” year. There are a few reasons why I would not count out Cousins in the future. He may not crack the Flyers next season, but he still has a bright future.
1. Size Adjustment
On this blog space, I have been clear about my desire to see the Flyers value skill and speed over size. Cousins is a good example of drafting an undersized player with considerable skill. However, the fact remains that smaller players coming from the junior leagues must take time to adjust to the professional game. The players are bigger and stronger, and tiny players must learn to use their skill and mobility to compensate for their lack of size.
Cousins was adjusting this season. When he was drafted, he was listed as 5’10″, 169lbs. He is now listed as 5’11″, 190lbs. He has grown and is not going to be completely manhandled by opposing defensemen. As Cousins rolls into next year, expect him to be able to produce more from the get go because he is used to the size of his opponents and the pace of the game.
2. Late Season Surge
Although 29 points in 74 games looks bad, let’s take a look at it in context. As stated above, Cousins was adjusting to a whole new kind of game. He struggled at the beginning of the season, recording 14 of his 29 points over the course of the first 51 games of the season. Cousins recorded 15 points (over half of his season total) in the final 23 games. His points per game average over the final two months of the season was .65 which prorates to 53 points in an 82 game season.
As Cousins became comfortable with his game, his number began to improve. Will he be the next Claude Giroux, no way. But his numbers should be greatly improved during the 2014-2015 campaign.
3. System Failure
Phantoms Head Coach Terry Murray is known for his defensive style of play. Cousins is not known for his defensive competence. He is a skilled playmaker who can get under the opponents skin. Therefore, the system/coach may not have been the ideal situation for Cousins to be thrown into as a rookie. He had to learn to play a more two-way game and his numbers suffered.
Once again, we should expect that Cousins will build off of his late season surge in this regard. Cousins knows what to expect with Murray and vice versa. Cousins proved that he can be an effective forward later in the season and should have the trust of his coach from day 1.
4. Better Defensive Unit
If anyone was paying attention to the Phantoms this season, they would know that their defensive unit was in shambles for much of the season. Their top pairing of Brandon Manning and Bruno Gervais was good, when healthy. However, Gervais, Oliver Lauridsen, Matt Konan, and Cullen Eddy each missed significant time due to injuries. When the blue line is in shambles, it can be difficult for the forwards to get going.
Next season, the defensive unit should be much improved. Even when healthy, the likes of Konan and Eddy are not ideal top four defensemen, and their replacements were not very good either. The defensive unit should be injected with some puck moving/offensive firepower with the addition of Robert Hagg and possibly Shayne Gostisbehere, if he does not play for the Flyers. Likewise, Mark Alt may be with the big club, but if not, he should become one of the Phantoms top defensemen and will be able to calmly move the puck up the ice to the forwards.
It is one thing to talk the talk about being patient with prospects, it is another thing to walk the walk. Having been spoiled with center prospects like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Mike Richards, etc, it is easy to become impatient with Cousins. However, as Bill Meltzer is fond of saying, a players development is rarely a straight upward line.
The start of the season was bad for Cousins. I attended two Phantoms games in December. To say I was disappointed in Cousins would be an understatement. He looked lost on the ice and was invisible for most of the game.
I caught bits and pieces of games here and there throughout the season, but did not watch another full game until April. When I watched two games in April, Cousins looked good. He was involved in the play, scoring goals, and even had this amazing shootout winner (start the video at the :30 mark).
He may never be a superstar, and he may not even crack the Flyers line up for another year or two. But to completely write off Nick Cousins after an up and down rookie season is foolish. He is still a good prospect.