End to End: Does No. 2 pick make Sean Couturier expendable?

End to End: Does No. 2 pick make Sean Couturier expendable?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall, and Greg Paone.

The question: Does the No. 2 overall pick make Sean Couturier expendable in the trade market?

This is an interesting question because, in Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, the Flyers will be getting another top-six center to build around and eventually take over for Claude Giroux. It also is an interesting question because there appears to be a certain sector of Flyers fans and the media that has soured on Couturier and want to move on from the 24-year-old. Perhaps it’s because Couturier has yet to blossom into an elite scorer at this level. Perhaps people see his draft position and want more points. Whatever the reason is, I don’t get it.

We know a few things about Couturier as an NHL player. He’s an excellent defensive pivot who plays tough minutes against opponents’ top players. (He does that extremely well too.) He scores plenty at even strength — his 14 even-strength goals and 31 points were second only to Jakub Voracek last season, and that’s something the Flyers need. His possession numbers have increased each year that he has been an NHL player. Last season, of players who played 20 or more games, only Jordan Weal (55.9) had a higher Corsi For percentage than Couturier’s 54.5. During the final month-plus of the regular season, Couturier led the NHL with a plus-18 rating, and from March 4 to April 9, he recorded the 17 even-strength points, which was fourth-most in the NHL during that span. He’s a piece to build around.

Sure, there are frustrating parts of Couturier’s game. He’s not good on the power play. That much we can say. The Flyers have given him ample opportunity the past two seasons to prove he can produce on the man advantage and he simply hasn’t been able to prove it. It’s frustrating, sure, but it’s not a reason to turn on Couturier. He’s more than capable of producing at even strength. He dealt with some injuries last season and claimed he wasn’t fully healthy when he returned. Let’s remember, he was solid before the injuries hit, too.

Trading for Valtteri Filppula helped take some pressure off Couturier, and having a full season of Filppula will help too. Adding either Patrick or Hischier to the fold will also help. There aren’t many untouchables on the Flyers’ roster — Ivan Provorov is the only definite — but for me, Couturier is a player I would continue to build around. The overall package there is too valuable to a team, and if he’s, at worst, a third-line center, then that’s OK.

I don’t think landing the No. 2 pick makes Couturier any more available than he was before. But that’s also because I don’t think he is a guy the Flyers should want to trade anyway.

Drafting a high-caliber center at No. 2 would certainly give Hextall greater flexibility and incentive to trade Couturier.
The Flyers are about to add to their cupboard, so trying to sell Couturier high wouldn't be a terrible idea because he is only 24 years old with tangibles teams covet.
Some may think Couturier is what he is after seeing him for six seasons. But I feel like the Flyers believe there's bigger potential for him to reach and Hextall isn't ready to throw that away just because they've landed a prominent draft slot and will add a prospect that plays Couturier's position.
And, heck, maybe Couturier would thrive as a bottom-six center. That would be true depth and secondary scoring the Flyers need. We all saw what Couturier did at the end of the regular season once he felt healthy and some pressure was lifted by the acquisition of Filppula.
Maybe Hextall will be more open to the thought of trading Couturier, but the still-maturing center is locked up by the Flyers through 2021-22 and I don't see that changing. 

I find this to be a very intriguing, thought-provoking question and possibility. It's a question that makes me (and hopefully you guys, too) think. And that's a good thing.

Let's recall the Flyers went into this season with Couturier pegged as their No. 2 center behind Giroux. Things didn't go as smoothly as planned and Ron Hextall felt the need to go out and get Filppula from Tampa at the trade deadline and slide the veteran into that No. 2 center slot.

After that trade, Couturier slid down to the third line and played extremely well down the stretch. But then the Flyers landed the No. 2 pick, which will net them a potential stalwart center.

I do think the No. 2 pick makes Couturier more available than he was before the ping-pong balls were drawn last Saturday night in Toronto. How could he not be with a young center on the way and how pleased the Flyers were with Filppula?

But this pick also means a lot of different things are on the table now. It's a game-changer.

Also, remember Filppula is a free agent after this coming season and Couturier and Giroux are locked up for the long haul.

Teams like to build these days with strength down the middle at center. A triumvirate of Giroux-Patrick/Hischier-Couturier down the middle of the lineup would be the envy of a lot of teams around the NHL.

So do I think Couturier is more available now? Yes, probably so. Do I think he will get moved prior to when the new season starts in October? No, I believe he'll be here. He's still just 24 years old and the Flyers shouldn't be ready to move on just yet. He brings a two-way dynamic that can be invaluable. Consistency, especially at the offensive end, is the missing ingredient.

I'm very interested to see how he fits into a lineup with a new, young center in the mix. If it's as a third-line center, there's nothing wrong with that.

Nolan Patrick's start reminder of rookie life adjusting to NHL

AP Images

Nolan Patrick's start reminder of rookie life adjusting to NHL

If Nolan Patrick is to have a long and storied career in the National Hockey League, then perhaps we shouldn’t get caught up in the prologue - that section of a book you likely skim over before you begin chapter one.

This season is Patrick’s prologue - a short blurb that will likely be passed over when the final chapter is eventually written.  

In fact, Flyers GM Ron Hextall reminded us recently that, as an 18-year-old, Joe Thornton scored three goals and seven points in 55 games during his rookie season with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98. Does anyone remember or discuss Year 1 of the Thornton Era?

“People forget this stuff,” said Hextall. “These guys are young kids. It’s why some players need time in the minors. It’s a process. It’s hard to go out 82 times against 25, 30-year-old men and play. It’s demanding as hell. People don’t realize that.”

Starting the season on the Flyers' second line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds, Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in this past June's entry draft, was consistently logging 13 and a half minutes a game and contributing offensively despite inconsistencies while acclimating and adjusting to playing at a much higher pace. Then came the hit against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 24 and the prolonged post-concussion period that lasted for nearly a month.

Recently, the mistakes have piled up with turnovers and poor positional play, and head coach Dave Hakstol has cut Patrick’s ice time. The rookie averaged a little below nine minutes during the recent three-game Western Canadian sweep.

“Patrick’s 19 years old. He’s a kid,” said Hextall. “I know people want more out of him. We want more out of him, but he’s a 19-year-old. People think because a kid’s got a big name, he’s drafted high, he’s going to come into the league and bang, he’s going to make an instant impact.

“He’s shown enough of signs that he can compete at this level and be a factor, and that’s what you want with a young kid. I don’t like putting young kids on a team that aren’t a factor. Why would he even be on your team? Nolan has shown at times he can be a factor and he needs to get better as the year goes on.”

Patrick’s season is more than anything a by-product of last year in juniors with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings when he suffered a muscle tear in the midsection area that went misdiagnosed. Admittedly, he was never performing at 100 percent while fighting through pain and discomfort. 

While the majority of non-playoff NHLers begin their offseason regimen sometime in May, Patrick barely did anything. He worked out prior to combine testing in June leading up to the draft, and only after meeting with renowned core muscle surgeon Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia did Patrick realize his injuries were career-threatening. 

Had Patrick gone through an injury-free season with the Wheat Kings and a full offseason to recover from normal nagging injuries all players go through, he would have been back in the gym before the first round of the NHL playoffs had commenced.  

“I think [Brandon] lost out in April, so obviously I would have liked to have that whole time to train and work on my game, but my body had other ideas for me,” said Patrick. “The big thing for me was I was hoping I was in good enough shape to do well with fitness testing and all of that. I only had a month to train. That was kind of the main thing I was worried about.”

A second surgery followed with a 4-to-6 week recovery and then came a bizarre abscess/boil that prevented him from skating in late July. By the time Patrick started working out in August, he was a good two months behind even the most experienced veterans. 

“He didn’t have a regular offseason, didn’t play a lot last year," Hextall said of Patrick. "It’s not an excuse, but those are things you got to look at. This is where he’s at right now, and Nolan has done some goods things for us. Does he need to do better? Yeah, he does.”

Just about every player would like to re-write their rookie season, especially those who came into the league as a teenager. Prior to Patrick, Sean Couturier was the last Flyer to play in the NHL the same year he was drafted. In Couturier’s case, he had the luxury of playing on a talented in 2011-12 team while focusing on his role as a fourth-line defensive center.

“It’s all about getting adapted to a new lifestyle,” Couturier said of transitioning to the NHL as a teenager. “Everything’s new. You’re going from juniors, being with a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds, and all of a sudden, you’re with men. It’s definitely a big change in your life. Offseason training, nutrition -- a lot of little details matter.

“I think Nolan’s figuring it out, but you can see he’s got all the potential to succeed. I’m not too worried about him to be honest."

Eventually Patrick will turn the page on his career. It just might not come this season.

Flyers goalie Brian Elliott named NHL's third star of the week

Flyers goalie Brian Elliott named NHL's third star of the week

Netminder Brian Elliott was a major key to the Flyers' three-game sweep of the daunting Western Canada. 

And now he's being recognized by the league for his stellar efforts.

The Flyers' goalie on Monday was named third star of the week by the NHL after going 3-0-0 in the team's three games last week and posting a 1.67 goals-against average and a.954 save percentage in the process. He stopped 103 of 108 shots he was peppered with.

Elliott's best effort last week came against his old teammates in Calgary on Monday when he stopped 43 of the Flames' 45 shots on net in a 5-2 victory that snapped the Flyers' ugly 10-game losing streak. He then went on to stop 24 Oilers shots on Wednesday in a 4-2 win and then 36 Canucks shots on Thursday in a 4-1 triumph.

Elliott has been a steadying presence in net all season long for a sputtering Flyers team. In 22 appearances this season, Elliott is 9-6-6 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.

With Michal Neuvirth still on the shelf with a lower-body injury, all signs point to Elliott getting the start in net Tuesday night when the Flyers return home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Blues center Brayden Schenn was named the league's first star of the week. The former Flyer scored six goals last week, including a hat trick in a win over Montreal last Tuesday. Netminder Jake Allen, Schenn's Blues teammate, was named second star after posting a 4-0-0 record, 1.50 goals-against average and .944 save percentage last week.