Flyers

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).

2018 NHL draft: Prospects the Flyers could select with the 14th overall pick

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Rena Laverty, USA Hockey/Terry Wilson, OHL Images/Larry Brunt, Spokane

2018 NHL draft: Prospects the Flyers could select with the 14th overall pick

As we inch closer to Ron Hextall’s fifth draft as Flyers general manager, we have a track record of what to expect this weekend at the 2018 NHL draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The Flyers have nine selections and two first-rounders. Hextall said last week he anticipates making both of his first-round picks (Nos. 14 and 19) but left the door open for a trade. In prior drafts, Hextall operated by a best player available mentality. While he said he’ll stick to the Flyers’ list, he let it slip they would like to restock their defense and desire more right-handed D-men.

We’re going to provide prospects the Flyers could target in the first round. First up, No. 14.

Joel Farabee, LW, 6-0/161, USA U-18 (NTDP)

While Hextall said a righty D-man is on his wish list, he also acknowledged the Flyers’ need for goal scoring. Farabee, an 18-year-old New Yorker from the USNTDP, fits that description well.

Farabee scored 48 total goals in 88 combined games and produced above a point-per-game clip between the USHL and NTDP. He brings high character and a commitment to a 200-foot game.

A speedy left winger, Farabee possesses a shoot-first mentality and his skating to create space. He’s headed to Boston University in the fall, where he’ll fine-tune his game and bulk up.

Rasmus Kupari, C, 6-1/188, Kärpät (Extraliga)

Hextall lives by building down the middle — centers, defensemen and goaltenders — so Kupari could be on the Flyers’ radar come Friday night. He’s one of the best skaters in the draft and owns tremendous puck skills while still having a ton of raw talent he needs to polish overseas.

Kupari, as a 17-year-old playing in Finland’s top hockey league, recorded 14 points in 39 games with Kärpät. He also made Finland’s 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships roster.

The centerman will be staying in Finland for at least another year, so patience will be required. Could be a few years before he comes to North America but is a high-upside prospect.

Bode Wilde, D, 6-2/197, USA U-18 (NTDP)

If the Flyers stay put, keep an eye on Wilde, a smooth-skating righty defenseman with a cannon for a shot and a solid frame for an 18-year-old, using it to separate players from the puck.

Wilde scored 12 goals and 41 points in 61 games with the NTDP this season and added three goals and 16 points in 25 games with the NTDP junior team in the USHL. 

The University of Michigan commit has plenty to work on but will get the chance to do so at one of the better college hockey programs. Needs to get smarter with his decision-making and sharpen his play in his own zone, but there are enough encouraging signs in which that won’t be an issue.

Ty Smith, D, 5-10/176, Spokane (WHL)

A smaller defensive prospect, Smith’s skating ability picks up for what he lacks in size. The game has changed, so size doesn’t matter as much anymore. Still, Smith’s skill level is high.

The Chiefs' defenseman scored 14 goals and 73 points in 69 games in 2017-18 and captained Team Canada’s U-18 team at the 2018 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championships.

Smith’s talent level isn’t that far off from the draft’s top D prospects. Spokane head coach Dan Lambert recently said Smith reminds him like a mix of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.

Joseph Veleno, C, 6-1/194, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Veleno may be off the board when the Flyers are on the clock but could last until 14. The centerman was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft after receiving exceptional status as a 15-year-old by the CHL, becoming just the fifth player to ever be granted that rank.

Finishing as the eighth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, Veleno has a pro-like work ethic with a high hockey IQ. He was traded from Saint John to Drummondville midseason in 2017-18 and finished with 79 points in 64 games between the two clubs.

Under the Hextall administration, the Flyers have valued smart players with high character and a commitment to playing a 200-foot game. If Veleno is available, he fits all that criteria.

Other names to watch

Barrett Hayton, C, 6-1/190, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Hayton is a prospect the Flyers should know plenty about. A solid two-way centerman who produced just under a point-per-game clip in 2017-18 playing for the powerhouse Greyhounds.

Serron Noel, RW, 6-5/210, Oshawa (OHL)
A monster of a winger, Noel falls under the project category. The Flyers’ farm system positions them to be able to take on a project like Noel but there appear to be better fits at No. 14.

Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 6-2/184, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Hextall has built a reputation as a GM who likes high risers — Travis Sanheim and Morgan Frost, for example — and Kravtsov definitely falls into that category. A very intriguing option at 14.

Grigori Denisenko, LW, 5-10/171, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
A Russian winger with sky-high potential. Not sure if he’ll be on the Flyers’ radar at 14 — might be a little high — but his ceiling could be enticing enough for Hextall to call his name.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Hextall

Flyers anticipate making both first-round draft picks

Flyers should know and like this D-man to 'restock'

Flyers desire righty D, but is Ryan Merkley worth the risk?

Trade talks or contract talks? Right now, doesn't sound like Wayne Simmonds is going anywhere

Trade talks or contract talks? Right now, doesn't sound like Wayne Simmonds is going anywhere

Last year it was Brayden Schenn who was dealt on draft night. 

Could this year be Wayne Simmonds?

According to a report Tuesday by Michael Russo of The Athletic, the Flyers are gearing to potentially trade Simmonds. Russo’s report mentions the Flyers as one of 15 different teams the Minnesota Wild could possibly swing a deal with under new general manager Paul Fenton.

While the speculation comes as little surprise, general manager Ron Hextall said last week immediately following his pre-draft press conference that he expects to have preliminary discussions with Simmonds' agent regarding a contract extension.

“Yeah, we’ll talk at some point,” Hextall said. “We had pro meetings, the week before was four days of amateur meetings. Combine before that. It’s a real busy time. That gets pushed back to later.”

Hextall certainly didn’t make it sound as if he’s gearing up to deal Simmonds this weekend, and he typically doesn’t resort to smoke screens as a way of misleading reporters. 

The Flyers' power forward has been a regular in Voorhees, New Jersey, throughout his rehab following surgery to repair a tear in his pelvis area. Hextall feels Simmonds is already on track to be 100 percent for training camp and anticipates a monster season from the 29-year-old right winger as he not only enters the final year of his contract but is also out to prove that last season was a fluke.

“I’ll be honest with you, Simmer’s a fast-twitch muscle guy, I don’t have any concern with him,” Hextall said. “I saw him [Thursday] morning, he’s gonna work his way, he’s with [team director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin]. He’s got great guidance. ... I have the expectation for Simmer to come back and be as good as new.”

Last year, Hextall mentioned he had not anticipated trading Schenn until the deal with St. Louis was pieced together on draft night. Something similar could also happen with Simmonds, who has a limited no-trade clause in his current contract, which allows him to submit a no-trade list of 12 teams. 

All of which leaves you wondering whether a big deal goes down in Big D.

More on the Flyers

What should the Flyers do with Simmonds?

• Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

• Hextall doesn't plan on trading up in draft, but ...

• How much will Flyers change? That's Hextall's challenge