Brayden Schenn

Debating Brayden Schenn trade? Sean Couturier playing role in it

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USA Today Images

Debating Brayden Schenn trade? Sean Couturier playing role in it

NEW YORK — For two straight seasons, Brayden Schenn made a living doing it.

Roaming the middle from circle to circle on the power play, ready to let a shot rip, punch home a tip pass or flush a rebound.

Schenn mastered the role by understanding how to complement the playmakers surrounding him. He turned the art into 28 man-advantage goals from 2015-17, fourth-most in the NHL over that span.

When Schenn was traded to the Blues on draft night last June, the Flyers' top power-play unit suddenly had a job opening.

It caught Couturier's eye.

"Yeah, I saw an opportunity," he said Tuesday following morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "Didn't get it early in the year, but as the year went on, got the chance to get a look in that spot and just trying to capitalize on it."

As part of a career year that still has half a season to go, Couturier is seizing the opportunity to fill Schenn's skates. Three of his seven goals during the Flyers' four-game winning streak have come on the power play. On the season, he has six man-advantage markers in 43 games after scoring just three over 416 games the six seasons prior.

"He's a smart player, he watched someone for such a long time like he did with Schenner," Jakub Voracek said. "He knows what to do and we talk about it a lot, we talk a lot of power play, how to get better, what to do when we have a bad game to make sure it doesn't happen again."

With perimeter weapons in Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere to go along with a net-front presence like Wayne Simmonds, Couturier's intelligence of proper spacing and finding open areas has made the transition for the power play seamless.

"When you're such a smart hockey player, you know when to go the net, you know when to stop. I wish I had that gift. I always swing it away around the net," Voracek said with a laugh. "It's different with me, too, because I always try to create something. He knows when he plays with me and G that he's going to get the puck around the net eventually. So he stops there, he goes there and he's having a great year so far."

So is the power play, which entered Tuesday's game against the Rangers sixth among the NHL in success rate with a 21.9 percentage, while posting a 24.3 percentage on the road, good for third best.

"My job being in the middle is to be ready to jump on loose pucks, let the guys on the outside — Jake, G and Ghost — to do plays and I just try to create myself a shooting spot, or if it's a loose puck, try to be strong on it and get it back," Couturier said. "Just supporting all over the ice is probably the biggest thing."

Simmonds, second in the NHL since the 2013-14 season with 66 man-advantage tallies, said his teammates saw the ability in Couturier.

"He's done really well, extremely well, obviously you can tell by his 25 goals," Simmonds said. "Point-per-game player, I think a lot of people didn't expect this kind of offense to come out of Coots, but everyone knew he could do it. He's got his confidence, he's got his swagger and I think if you watch him with the puck, he's a completely different player. When you have your confidence, it just propels you to the next level.

"He's having a coming out party this year and it's really great to see."

Couturier continued the party last time out when the Flyers beat the Devils, 5-3, on Saturday night. The 25-year-old center scored two more goals, one off a nice power-play connection with Giroux.

"I think he's getting more opportunities. When you're in that spot on the power play, you get to showcase a few different abilities," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "The quick release that he scored on the other night — first of all, it's a hell of a play from G through the three sticks and it's a real good finish by Coots. I think with success, you probably feel a little bit better about those opportunities, but I haven't seen a great difference because I've seen Coots score probably four of five goals this year on second and third opportunities at the goal crease. I think there's some depth to his abilities in and around the net."

Notes and tidbits
• The Flyers are looking for their fifth straight win as they open their four-game regular-season series with the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m./NBCSP). With a regulation win, the Flyers (48 points) can leapfrog the Rangers (49) in the Metropolitan Division standings. They come in two points behind the Islanders (50) for the Eastern conference's second wild-card spot.

• Forward Taylor Leier reenters the lineup after three straight healthy scratches. Tyrell Goulbourne, who made his NHL debut on Jan. 6 and has played the previous three games, will sit in Leier's place.

"Taylor's case, Taylor has been out of the lineup for the last couple of games, but he didn't come out because he played a poor game," Hakstol said. "We put a different player with different abilities in the lineup. So for Taylor, just come back, do the things that he does well and he'll help our team.

"Taylor is a confident player and the biggest challenge sometimes in that role, when you're in and out of the lineup, is the work that you do on the days when you're out. And Taylor does that work."

• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup, which sees the return of Gostisbehere, who missed Saturday's game with an illness:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds

Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere

Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth

Healthy scratches: Forwards Tyrell Goulbourne (healthy) and Dale Weise (healthy), and defenseman Travis Sanheim (healthy).

Flyers fans, don't be surprised by Morgan Frost … yet

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Photo: Aaron Bell | OHL Images

Flyers fans, don't be surprised by Morgan Frost … yet

Morgan Frost has taken just about the whole gamut by storm.

Whether it's Flyers fans tracking his progress or the hockey world keeping tabs on the game's future, Frost's jump in production would seem staggering to most.

Except for one person.

The guy who sees and knows the 18-year-old's game as well as anybody.

His head coach, Drew Bannister.

"I'm not totally surprised," the Sault Ste. Marie leader said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Frost, a teenage center the Flyers drafted 27th overall last June, is the primary reason the Brayden Schenn trade doesn't sting as sharply as it could. The Flyers acquired the pick in the deal that sent the 2018 All-Star to the Blues, and while Schenn is on pace for a career season, Frost is in the process of shattering his personal bests in junior.

After putting up 20 goals and 42 assists in 67 regular-season games last year for the Greyhounds, Frost has 27 goals and 44 assists in only 42 games this season. His 71 points lead the OHL, as does his astounding plus-50 rating.

Talk about blowing up, right?

The scary thing is, Bannister isn't blown away. Instead, Frost may be sprouting with much more growth in store.

"I don't know if he's made huge strides this season, I think he's just continued his development," he said. "The biggest development I saw for him was probably in his first season here as a 16-year-old — from the first couple of months until after Christmas time was probably the biggest jump I've seen with Morgan. I think Morgan is just a little bit more comfortable in the position that he's been put in with his linemates and being a No. 1 centerman on his team here compared to the past couple of seasons. I think that took a little bit of time to adjust to, but now he's more comfortable, obviously playing some real good hockey and has for quite a stretch here now."

In 2016-17, Frost enjoyed feeding Bruins 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn, who scored 42 goals on the wing before graduating to the pro ranks. So, last summer, Frost said he wanted to show he could do more than just pass — that his offensive game was expansive, that he could make a difference on the penalty kill and prove his defensive worth, as well.

This season has been his chance and Frost is flourishing.

"Morgan has had a little bit more opportunity this year than he has in the past and we're starting to use him more on the penalty kill and he's been very responsible," Bannister said. "We hold Morgan accountable to be better defensively. His all-around game, especially his play away from the puck, has gotten better. Not that it was poor before then, but I just see a more committed player away from the puck, the way he tracks pucks down. For him, he's creating more offense for himself and his linemates right now playing that way, and he's recognizing that, too."

Sault Ste. Marie implements a style in which it utilizes its skilled players on the penalty kill, resulting in greater pressure on the opponents' power play with the shorthanded unit looking to attack instead of ice the puck. Frost and company have parlayed that tactic into a league-leading 16 shorthanded goals and a top-10 PK (81.5 percentage). The team also won 23 straight games and is atop the OHL at 37-3-2.

"When you're down a man, you want to make sure that you have players on the ice that are making the right reads," Bannister said.

"Putting a guy like Morgan Frost in that opportunity this year certainly works in our favor. He's been doing a good job on it."

That's on top of Frost and his linemates, Boris Katchouk and newly acquired Taylor Raddysh (both NHL second-round picks), making for a matchup nightmare.

"They're seeing the best defensive pairing and they're seeing checking lines or another team's top line," Bannister said. "It's impressive that line and Morgan himself are able to defend and create offense against other teams' best players.

"What stands out for Morgan is his hockey IQ. It doesn't matter who you put him with, he's just going to make them better players."

Those abilities are what could make Frost a sleeper to crack the Flyers' roster next season as a 19-year-old rather than play a fourth campaign of junior hockey. If 2017-18 is any indication, it's that Frost is coming along … and pretty darn quickly.

"For me, he's going to play in the NHL, there's no question about that, it's just when is it?" Bannister said. "Nothing surprises me these days, but he could be in the lineup as early as next year. Who knows, right?"

Bannister hasn't been surprised by Frost.

He might know best.

Goulbourne 'shot in the arm' Flyers needed

Goulbourne 'shot in the arm' Flyers needed

BOX SCORE

An NHL tough guy is born … or should we say bourne?

Flyers rookie winger Tyrell Goulbourne took his opening NHL shift and made it a rather memorable one, leveling one of the league’s top defensemen, Alex Pietrangelo, which set up Scott Laughton and the team's first goal Saturday afternoon.

Surprisingly, it was Goulbourne who had a sense of fear coming in.

“It was amazing,” Goulbourne said. “I can’t really explain how it felt. I was scared before the game. My legs were shaking. It felt really good after that first shift. I just wanted to get a hit in there. Laughts kind of teed him up nice. I just wanted to finish my check. I’ve always been an energy type player.”

“Everybody’s excited for a player to go out and have success on his first shift,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It empowers him and for sure it’s a shot in the arm for the entire bench. Obviously, he had a big impact on that first shift to go out and play the way he plays.”

While the Flyers certainly don’t need to resort to overpowering teams physically, Goulbourne’s intensity and toughness are an element embraced when coaches and GMs are looking for a lift at some point throughout an 82-game schedule.

“You see him coming and you kind of want to get out of the way,” goalie Brian Elliott said. “I didn’t know what happened on his first shift, but the boys were saying that it was definitely a good one.”

Before Pietrangelo and the Blues knew what hit them, they were trailing 4-0 just 31 minutes and 45 seconds into the game, as the Flyers cruised to a 6-3 victory (see observations).

A game that also proved to be a not-so-memorable return for Blues center Brayden Schenn, who played for the first time in Philadelphia since the offseason trade.

Schenn was held pointless, finished as a minus-1  and won just five of 17 draws. Not only did the Flyers own Schenn in the faceoff circle, but Claude Giroux welcomed him back with a surprising check that knocked him down at center ice.

“He kind of gave me a shot and I gave him a shot right back," said Giroux, who scored his 14th goal, matching his scoring output from last season. "I think he just fell, but it was pretty funny."

Officially the midway point of the season, Giroux is once again top five in scoring and on pace for a 100-point season.

“You want to be the best player you can be at all times,” Giroux said. “Being able to have that chemistry with Coots makes my job a lot easier. I think when you get older you kind of learn from your mistakes.”

The Flyers scored six goals in back-to-back games for the first time since February 2013 after defeating the Islanders, 6-4, Thursday. Finally, consistency is beginning to set in within the team’s secondary scoring lines.

“I think we got everyone going early in the game and guys are ready,” said center Sean Couturier, who scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season. “Guys come out strong and we established our game, and I think it obviously helps a lot when you get a good start and go from there.”

Slow starts have been a Flyers trademark over the first half of the season. Their 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes was the first Flyers first-period lead since Dec. 7 at Vancouver.

Now just cut and paste that first shift from Goulbourne moving forward.