The Flyers best offensive player for the last month or so has not been from the usual trio of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek or Wayne Simmonds. Surprisingly, it’s the defensive-minded Sean Couturier who’s been leading the attack.
Known primarily as a shutdown forward who is tasked with going up against the opposing team’s top line, Couturier has shown flashes of developing into the standout two-way player the organization always envisioned.
In his last 11 games, the 23 year old has scored six goals and added six assists, which is the best stretch of his five-year career. Couturier has credited his recent surge with a new mental approach he adopted this season.
“I feel like earlier in first few years I was thinking more defensively going against top lines,” said Couturier, who signed a six-year, $26 million contract extension over the summer. “I just tried to make sure I didn’t get scored against. Now, I try and think more of outscoring them. That is more of my mentality now, and I have to keep improving and thinking that way.”
Couturier, whose three-game point streak ended during Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Bruins, posted a career-high 15 goals last season and 22 assists in 82 games. In 35 games this season, he has nine tallies and 11 helpers.
The Flyers always felt the 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 8 overall) could blossom into a reliable goal scorer based on his numbers in junior hockey.
In his final two seasons with the Drummondville Voltieurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Couturier scored 41 and 36 goals and finished both campaigns with 96 points. However, Couturier concentrated more on defense in his first season with the Voltieurs, when he finished with 31 points in 58 games.
It’s a pattern that has followed him to the NHL.
“I think it’s similar,” Couturier said. “The first year of juniors I was playing third and fourth line minutes and if I wanted to get out there more I had to be reliable defensively and not get scored against. Then, my last two years I tried to out-score first lines. Now [with the Flyers], the first few years here have been similar and I am thinking the same way.”
Cemented mostly as a third-line center during his career with the Flyers, Couturier has been bumped to the second line this season. Paired recently with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, Couturier’s line still gets the toughest assignment each game, though. The only difference is Couturier is providing offense as well.
“He’s still in a role playing the other team’s good line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s just not a shutdown role. You have to beat whoever you play against and he has that mentality.”