Orange & Black Breakdown
by Marc Siciliano on 10/14/11 at 05:20 PM ET
For years leading up to this season, it seemed the only major chink in the Philadelphia Flyers armor has been goaltending. But hiding just beyond eyesight of many and deep within the armor itself was a bruised farm system, greatly affecting performance with its inability to provide the right type of spark in crucial moments.
The Flyers have obviously altered their game plan in order to achieve positive results, and their efforts have yielded a perfect 3-0 start to the season. At the core of this success has been youth and goaltending.
A visual representation of the rookie learning curve: By Sean Couturier
For Couturier, the seeds began to take root in the summer while he skated amongst Canada’s elite for a WJC development camp. Tweets from those in attendance began to emerge, touting Couturier as one of the ‘men amongst boys’ who appeared to be NHL ready.
While this may have been a surprising development to some, it wasn’t completely unforeseen. When Derek Zona was able to discuss Couturier at length with a QMJHL scout before the draft, the scout raved about his ability to play a complete game and particularly noted the trust his coach his Drummondville coach had in him on the penalty kill.
“He [Couturier] played 30 minutes, maybe more in tight games, sure. 4-5 minutes of that were on the penalty kill. When they [Drummondville] were tight or down, Duhamel [Drummondville coach Mario Duhamel] only used 4 forwards to kill penalties and Couturier was his top penalty killer.”
-QMJHL scout on Couturier
Many were quick to draw comparisons of Couturier to Jordan Staal around the draft due to his body type, but the similarities are far deeper than that. I asked Brian Metzer over the summer about what made Staal so successful as a rookie and the similarities are very striking. Here is what he sent me:
“Jordan Staal was perfect for the Penguins at the time of his drafting because of the two-way game that he was able to play. They had already drafted Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and his style was great for filling a third line role be it then or in the future. In Staal’s case it obviously worked out that it was right away…
While trying to gather some info from this point in time I went and back re-read some of my old blogs from the start of the 2006 season and a couple of things stood out. First of all, Staal’s status for that season was in question all the way up to the deadline to send him back to juniors. The second thing I noticed was my effusive praise of the fact that he provided something that wasn’t necessarily on the roster at that point in time—a two-way presence who could kill penalties, use his size and positioning to shut down opposing forwards and chip in offensively as needed.
From the earliest days of camp, Staal never really looked out of place. I remember thinking that he looked so comfortable on the ice. Sure he didn’t always get it done offensively, but he looked like a seasoned vet in the defensive zone. He could win face-offs and had a knack for stealing passes while shorthanded. I am still floored by the fact that he managed to notch 3 shorties in his first seven games! Bob Errey famously referred to him as a Pterodactyl because of his wing span.
Staal looked a little clunky and slow while skating, but it was because he was so big. He actually reminded me of Mario Lemieux in that regard. There were times during Mario’s early years where people would call him lazy on the ice because it didn’t look like he was flying around on the ice, but when he was in a one-on-one situation he would blow by the defender. Staal had that ability. If you look at footage of those shorthanded goals he was scoring, most involved him blowing by a defenseman who just wasn’t ready for his speed and was left in his dust.
His 29-rookie goals aside, he was on that first team due to his sound defensive play. His penalty killing ability, ability to win draws (which wasn’t tremendous, but good enough), attention to detail, positional play and hockey sense kept him in the NHL. An injury or two (such as the one to Ryan Malone) also helped the cause, but he made it very hard for the team to send him back because of those aforementioned abilities. He was one of, if not the best defensive player on the team from his first day out.”
- Brian Metzer on Staal’s rookie season
I find it fascinating to look at the similarities in their situations because I think Couturier is capable of filling the same role that Staal did at the time. It’s clear that a combination of Staal’s ability and team needs made his rookie season a successful one, and Couturier seems to be locked into a similar position.
All of the skills that made Staal valuable to his team as a rookie are present in Couturier’s game. Will they develop at the same level? Who knows – but he’s certainly off to a great start, turning Laviolette into a believer after just three games.
That being said, after watching Couturier in some NHL action it’s obvious there is room for improvement.
He definitely needs to work on his skating and he is obviously still getting comfortable to the speed of the game. Additionally, he’s only 18 and has plenty of room to grow before he’ll need to take that next step in his offensive game. Some feel his growth will be the x-factor in his development, but his lack of bulk right now shouldn’t hinder his ability to think the game - and thus far it hasn’t.
Couturier is a unique player to have as your third line center. His awareness and ability to think the game make him a reliable choice on defense, but his offensive ceiling is also likely higher than any run-of-the-mill third line center. That extra ability to chip in makes him a unique catalyst in the offensive mix in the club and could prove to be the difference down the line if the club were to falter.
However his season may unfold, at the very least his presence on the ice will surely be impactful. And for this Flyers team that has lacked that impact rookie, his presence could mean a world of difference.
Lets Go Flyers!
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About Orange & Black Breakdown
The Orange & Black Breakdown looks to be the ultimate, around the clock source for news and information on the Philadelphia Flyers organization and it’s ever-present quest for the Stanley Cup. Focusing on what the team can do to achieve success is the ultimate goal.
The OBB is written and maintained by myself - Marc Siciliano. I’m a college graduate and media production professional in the sports industry with credits on projects like Hard Knocks: Bengals and 24/7 Penguins vs. Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic. A man of many hobbies, I always seem to find a way to spend a disproportionate amount of my daily routine with two things: Flyers hockey and social media (much to the dismay of my hockey impartial friends on twitter).
So what does this mean for you? The plan is to combine these
time-wasting habits passions with my love for writing to provide you with complete coverage of the Flyers from both my head and around the web, 24/7.
This is my second writing stint focusing on the Flyers, but for a much larger audience - so do be gentle. Different perspectives and opinions on the organization are welcome and encouraged. Just because I see it one way doesn’t mean I’m beyond seeing it your way as well, so speak up!
I’m always interested in interacting with readers, so find me on twitter (@marcs797) or email me (email@example.com) and let’s talk hockey.
Thanks for reading; Lets go Flyers!