When the Flyers signed Kevin Hayes in June 2019, general manager Chuck Fletcher said the club liked that the 6-foot-5 center "plays a smart, two-way game and is just entering the prime of his career."
Hayes is now 28 years old and still very much hitting his prime as a tough-to-play-against presence.
Sean Couturier celebrated his 28th birthday last Monday. It served as a reminder that the Flyers have two long and disruptive players at the top of the totem pole in the all-important middle of their lineup.
Better yet, both of them are only going up. That's exciting for the Flyers.
Had the 2019-20 regular season finished normally in a full 82-game slate, Hayes would have broken his career high of 25 goals (he scored 23 in 69 games). He still ended up with career highs in shots (175), game-winning goals (five) and shorthanded goals (four), a year after the Flyers scored four shorthanded markers as a team in 2018-19. He capped off his productive Year 1 in Philadelphia with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and a plus-7 mark over 16 playoff games.
"He’s a huge part of our team," Couturier said about Hayes in August. "He can make the difference in a game."
A scary thought is that Couturier, coming off a Selke Trophy-winning season, can get better. The Flyers' 6-foot-3, 211-pound alpha dog at center doesn't take his foot off the gas in his work. His game is built for longevity and sustainability. A snapshot of his ongoing growth: over the last three seasons, only three NHL centers have more even strength points than Couturier's 166 — Connor McDavid (219), Leon Draisaitl (194) and Nathan MacKinnon (188).
"He’s an elite player and you realize how good he is when you see him at the rink every day and you see how he goes about his life," Hayes said of Couturier in July.
Patrice Bergeron's career season came at 33 years old. Anze Kopitar's was at 30. Claude Giroux put up 34 goals, 68 assists, 102 points and a plus-28 rating at 30 years old. Players are still reaching their primes in their 30s.
The Flyers will continue to find out more about 2017 first-round picks Nolan Patrick and Morgan Frost. With time and development, those two centers could begin to fill out the Flyers' picture frame down the middle.
It's why the Flyers have to like the possibilities at the pivot, led by Couturier and Hayes.
Subscribe to and rate Flyers Talk