2018 Flyers training camp storyline: Sean Couturier's injured right knee

2018 Flyers training camp storyline: Sean Couturier's injured right knee

Each day leading up to Sept. 14, the official start of Flyers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

When the news trickled down late last month that Sean Couturier returned to Philadelphia after suffering a knee injury at a charity event, there was a collective gasp of concern.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall quickly calmed the storm. Couturier would miss four weeks and he did not reinjure the torn MCL he played through in Game 6 against Pittsburgh.

But Couturier was going to miss some of training camp and preseason. There was good news Monday, before the Flyers’ prospects and rookies took the ice on Day 1 of rookie camp.

Couturier, 25, was on the ice at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, firing one-timers, which is an obvious positive sign that he will be ready for the Oct. 4 opener.

Hextall said Couturier remains on the same four-week timeline and that he will play in the tail end of the Flyers’ preseason schedule. Monday was his first day on the ice, Couturier said.

“They don’t want me to push it too much,” Couturier said. “But, naturally, you kind of do push it because it’s the way I feel, and I felt good. Hopefully, [Tuesday] it responds well.”

Couturier said he will likely be skating on his own for another week or two and then go from there. He’s wearing a knee brace, which he said he’s using during this time period to get used to it.

The Flyers do not have a policy against players participating in charity events during the offseason, which is how Couturier suffered the knee injury.

On Monday, Couturier offered some insight on the charity event he hurt his knee at, which he called a "high-level tournament."

"Basically all the guys from Quebec meet up and play games all weekend to see where we're at in our summer training," Couturier said. "To see where we're at and push each other.

"They raise money for charity doing that, so it's part of the training. You're cautious but at the same time, not just going to sit back on my couch all summer and show up to camp."

With Couturier on schedule to return by the end of the preseason slate, there isn't much cause for concern. That said, how his knee holds up is worth watching.

Factor in that Couturier is coming off a torn MCL and that he suffered a non-contact injury to the same knee a few months later, there is some reason to be concerned.

"With the years, you learn yourself, learn your body," Couturier said. "It's a freak accident that happened. We have time to rest it, recuperate it and heal it, so we'll take the time.

"It's not like in-season where you're kind of rushing back to help the team. Now we have the time that we need to heal it and we'll take it."

Couturier enters the 2018-19 season as the Flyers' No. 1 center for the second straight campaign. Except this time, there are no questions about his production.

Playing with Claude Giroux and either Jakub Voracek or Travis Konecny last season, Couturier posted career highs across the board: 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 points.

There is a possibility that Couturier and Giroux are broken up this season as the Flyers have a vacancy at third-line center and Hextall opened the door for Giroux to return to center.

During the early portion of preseason, we'll likely see Giroux play a bit of center with Couturier out. And if Giroux does move back to center, it's not like Couturier moves to the third line.

Couturier will continue to have a prominent role in 2018-19, either as the top-line center or second-line center. He also found success on the power play last season.

The best-case scenario for the Flyers would be reuniting the top line of Couturier, Giroux and Konecny (see story).

There is no reason to believe, though, that last season was an outlier for Couturier. He finally discovered his offensive game and now he's entering the prime of his career.

And the Flyers have him signed through 2021-22 at a $4.33 million cap hit. Health withstanding, that's a pretty damn good deal.

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James van Riemsdyk can make Shayne Gostisbehere that much scarier

James van Riemsdyk can make Shayne Gostisbehere that much scarier

James van Riemsdyk sat at his practice locker Saturday and kindly asked for a moment.

After removing some gear, he threw on his Flyers shirt, pulled back his hair and put on his hat.

Then he stood up.

Right there, his presence was felt — the wide 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame, noticeable and tangible, a problem for opponents over the last five seasons.

Shayne Gostisbehere made his way to the dressing room shortly following van Riemsdyk. Asked about his new teammate, Gostisbehere looked like a youngster anxious to buy a No. 25 jersey. And his excitement was justified — a player like van Riemsdyk is what makes Gostisbehere that more daunting when darting along the blue line.

The power-play quarterback was envisioning his playing field.

The read was easy.

"Get as many pucks to the net because that's his office down there," Gostisbehere said.

He wasn't kidding.

All it took was one preseason game to feel that presence of van Riemsdyk and how he can change the Flyers. Gostisbehere, who often unselfishly works the point with perimeter passing, delivered on his promise by showing no hesitation in Monday's 3-1 preseason win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

In the first period on the Flyers' opening power play, a 5-on-3 man advantage, van Riemsdyk took a hefty crosscheck to the back, actually knocking him down to one knee. His size and disruptiveness completely stole the attention of an Islander in front, while also impeding goalie Thomas Greiss. Gostisbehere wasted no time, ripping a bullet into the net.

Another power play later, Gostisbehere used just 24 seconds before lacing a shot with van Riemsdyk in his precious blue paint. It was a second goal for Gostisbehere, but more so a money example of why general manager Ron Hextall brought van Riemsdyk back to Philadelphia on a five-year, $35 million deal.

The Flyers already had one of the best net-front guys in the business. Wayne Simmonds' 86 man-advantage goals since 2011-12 are second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin's 131. They also already had a budding net-front piece in Nolan Patrick, who led the Flyers with five power-play markers over the final 23 regular-season games of 2017-18.

All of which creates a good problem for head coach Dave Hakstol — van Riemsdyk made that problem clear Monday night, if his 36 goals last season weren't clear enough.

"I think JVR can make some sneaky plays," Gostisbehere said postgame. "We have so many weapons."

Indeed they do and Hakstol will have to spread them out and use them all.

van Riemsdyk, who knows young talent from playing with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in Toronto, smiled after his first game with the 25-year-old Gostisbehere orchestrating the power play.

"I've got to get used to that a little bit, he's pretty dynamic up there," van Riemsdyk said of Gostisbehere, who led all NHL blueliners with 33 man-advantage points last season. "He's got a ton of skill and an unbelievable hockey sense. No play is ever out of the question for him, so you just try to get in good spots and he makes it look pretty easy up there."

The equation seems easy — van Riemsdyk knows where to go and Gostisbehere knows when to shoot.

The answer, already felt.

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Flyers 3, Islanders 1 (preseason): Flyers look more like themselves at home

Flyers 3, Islanders 1 (preseason): Flyers look more like themselves at home


What a difference a day and a few more veterans make.

After a complete dud on Long Island Sunday, the Flyers dressed 10 regulars in a 3-1 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are some observations from the Flyers’ preseason home opener Monday.

1. Earlier in the day, general manager Ron Hextall singled out Jordan Weal and Scott Laughton as the front-runners in the competition for the third-line center job. Both players were in action, with Weal having the luxury of centering Claude Giroux along with Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Weal made a real conscious effort to play a strong two-way game, winning faceoffs in the defensive zone and playing the puck below his own goal line as if he was a third defenseman.

2. Fair to say three rookies are getting a strong, hard look at making the opening-night roster. Defenseman Philippe Myers and center Mikhail Vorobyev have participated in all three games so far in the preseason, starting with the prospects game last Wednesday. That’s three games in six days for the rookies. And Aube-Kubel appears to be perfectly suited for a fourth-line role as he brings speed and a physical presence.

3. Vorobyev had an awful opening shift, losing coverage below the goal line, which nearly led to an Isles’ goal. The Flyers' center was whistled for a hooking penalty, but after that he warmed up nicely, playing with skilled linemates. He worked a perfectly executed give-and-go with Jakub Voracek to score the Flyers’ first goal of the preseason. The Flyers’ 2015 fourth-round pick is remarkably talented and if the coaching staff can trust him without the puck, especially defensively, he’s worth serious consideration as the third-line center.

4. Myers makes mistakes coughing up the puck, but with his reach and skating ability, he’s able to cover his tracks quickly. He’s a hybrid mix of Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg. In the opening period, Myers displayed impressive lateral agility with a Shaye Gostisbehere-like move in the offensive end, and he didn’t hesitate driving the opponent into the boards. With Myers, there’s very little hesitation in his game, often playing on raw instincts. Although, once the regular season starts, he’ll need to be more structured.

5. Tyrell Goulbourne is one tough cookie, but he’d probably have better luck picking on someone his own size. The 5-11, 195-pound Goulbourne elected to drop the gloves with 6-5, 235-pound tough guy Ross Johnston. Not only did Goulbourne move up in weight class, he clearly needed a few inches in reach as Johnston nailed him with some solid right hands to win the fight unanimously.

6. I expected Mike Vecchione to come into training camp and make a strong push for a job. However, midway through the second period skating with the puck along the right wall, Vecchione coughed it up. That led to the Islanders’ getting in transition and eventually scoring their first goal. Carelessness with the puck can be the quickest way back to Lehigh Valley.

7. The Flyers’ power play was clicking with the combination of Giroux, Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. JVR showed he’s not afraid to take some abuse, drawing a two-minute cross-checking penalty, which led to a 5-on-3 man advantage. Like Nolan Patrick, JVR has the hands and the size to be highly effective and completely blinded Thomas Greiss on the Flyers’ 3-0 goal. Dave Hakstol will have some big decisions on how he wants to balance out his two power-play units.  

8. Carter Hart replaced Michal Neuvirth after the Islanders scored their first goal at the midway point of the second period. Hart stopped all 11 shots he faced, nothing too spectacular. Outside of some early rebound control, Hart looked much more at ease than he did in the prospects game. His movements and positioning already look NHL-caliber, he just needs some seasoning. 

Lines and pairings

van Riemsdyk-Vorobyev-Voracek
Laughton-Corban Knight-Dale Weise
Isaac Ratcliffe-Vecchione-Goulbourne

Yegor Zamula-Mark Friedman


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