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.

Flyers make roster cuts by sending Philippe Myers, Nicolas Aube-Kubel to Phantoms

Flyers make roster cuts by sending Philippe Myers, Nicolas Aube-Kubel to Phantoms

Minutes after the Flyers' loss to the Bruins Monday, the remaining rookies had their equipment packed up and carried out of the Wells Fargo Center dressing room as if they had played their final game.

For Philippe Myers and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, it was an omen.

The Flyers announced Tuesday afternoon that both guys would return to the Phantoms, who began training camp in Allentown, Pennsylvania, two days ago.

Myers started off with a strong camp, displaying the agility and physical presence working against Claude Giroux and other skilled forwards in 1-on-1 drills (see story). Myers looked fresh, battle-tested and ready to handle whatever the Flyers could throw his way.  

Still, Dave Hakstol wanted to test the 21-year-old defenseman’s mental and physical fortitude. Myers dressed in five of the six preseason games while playing some solid minutes on the penalty kill and the power play. While he looked at times as if he belonged, Myers' play also didn’t jump off the page like we saw out of Travis Sanheim a year ago.

The right-handed defenseman’s most glaring mistake of the preseason came Monday night when he blindly threw a backhanded pass into the middle of the ice, teeing up Lee Stempniak for a one-time goal and a 4-0 Boston lead. 

“I thought I heard somebody call for it," Myers said. "It was a bad read by me. I've got to learn from that and turn the page."

It wasn’t necessarily the nail in Myers' coffin to make the opening night roster, but perhaps the return of Andrew MacDonald was. MacDonald’s original prognosis from a lower-body injury put him out for the first six to eight games of the season, but his impressive recovery coupled with Sanheim’s return to practice meant only that Myers would be an extra defenseman relegated as a healthy scratch to start the season.

The Flyers may have expected a little bit more out of Aube-Kubel entering his third year of professional hockey.

Equipped with an impressive blend of speed, a hard, quick shot and a strong, physical forecheck, Aube-Kubel couldn’t bring all of those elements together consistently. There were flashes of high energy and a blue-collar work ethic when Aube-Kubel was paired with Giroux and Jordan Weal on the top line, but that excitement appeared to be lacking against the Bruins playing together with Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise.

According to general manager Ron Hextall, Aube-Kubel had been experiencing soreness, which may have contributed to his lackluster effort Monday, but there was room for him only as a fourth-line right winger. Since he wasn’t part of the PK rotation, which has become a vital role for any fourth-line player (see story), Aube-Kubel’s contributions to the Flyers would have been very limited.

Now Myers and Aube-Kubel will start the season with the Phantoms, where they’ll both be counted on to play some big minutes, and if they continue their AHL progression, there's a very good possibility we will see both guys with the Flyers at some point this season.

The Flyers' roster is now down to 33 players: 

Forwards (19)
Travis Konecny, RW, No. 11
Michael Raffl, RW, No. 12
Sean Couturier, C, No. 14
Jori Lehtera, C, No. 15
Wayne Simmonds, RW, No. 17
Nolan Patrick, C, No. 19
Taylor Leier, LW, No. 20
Scott Laughton, C, No. 21
Dale Weise, RW, No. 22
James van Riemsdyk, LW, No. 25
Claude Giroux, RW, No. 28
Corban Knight, C, No. 38
Tyrell Goulbourne, LW, No. 39
Jordan Weal, C, No. 40
Mikhail Vorobyev, C, No. 46
Oskar Lindblom, LW, No. 54
Pascal Laberge, C, No. 75
Carsen Twarynski, LW, No. 81
Jakub Voracek, RW, No. 93

Defensemen (9)
Radko Gudas, No. 3
Samuel Morin, No. 5
Travis Sanheim, No. 6
Robert Hagg, No. 8
Ivan Provorov, No. 9
Christian Folin, No. 26
Andrew MacDonald, No. 47
Shayne Gostisbehere, No. 53
Mark Friedman, No. 59

Goaltenders (5)
Michal Neuvirth, No. 30
Alex Lyon, No. 34
Brian Elliott, No. 37
Anthony Stolarz, No. 41
Carter Hart, No. 79

More on the Flyers

Can killing penalties actually determine who makes the Flyers' roster?

Can killing penalties actually determine who makes the Flyers' roster?

For any NFL rookie or young player on the bubble, it’s almost a prerequisite to making the final roster. 

You have to excel, or at the very least, contribute to special teams. 

Something that also applies to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Exactly one week from today, Dave Hakstol’s opening night roster will have to be submitted to the league office by 5 p.m., and there’s still some tough decisions that have to be made. Most importantly is the search to find those last two or three forwards to round out the roster.

While it’s not specifically stated in the job description, the ability to kill penalties could very well determine who stays in Philadelphia and who goes to Lehigh Valley. They’re the hard minutes that GMs and coaches want their more skilled players and superstars to avoid, if possible.

“Sometimes those guys don’t get a lot of minutes so you like to have guys that can kill penalties down on the fourth line,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “It would be nice to have some physical play down on the fourth line. Certainly some energy, you've got to have guys that play with some energy down there, but to have penalty killers on the fourth line helps because it alleviates your top guys’ minutes.”

If you don’t think the Flyers place a premium on fourth-line penalty killing, consider in 2016-17 Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde spent 21 percent, or a combined 429 minutes, of their ice time killing penalties. While an unusually high amount, that percentage far exceeds the ice time skilled forwards like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek spend on the power play, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-18 percent. 

While the Flyers' top penalty-killing forward Sean Couturier has yet to play in a preseason game, Hakstol continues to experiment with a myriad of different combinations to see what pairs communicate and work well together and which ones don’t. Monday night against the Bruins, Jori Lehtera was flanked to the left of Dale Weise, while Scott Laughton was teamed with Corban Knight.  

Eventually, it was Michael Raffl along with Weise that created the neutral-zone turnover, which led to Weise’s shorthanded goal. Raffl’s takeaway is one of those critical plays that can change the momentum of a game as the Flyers proceeded to score three goals in a span of 2:44 to cut a 4-0 deficit to one goal (see highlights).

The Flyers haven’t had enough of those plays, and more importantly, just overall efficient penalty killing in Hakstol’s three seasons in Philadelphia. The PK unit has yet to finish higher than 20th in the league in each of the past three seasons, and every indication is that the team believes the problem lies more in its personnel than in its setup or structure.

It will also be interesting to see how much the Flyers continue to rely on their No. 1 center Couturier as a penalty killer once he returns and if the team attempts to curtail those “hard” minutes like it has done with Giroux over the past five years.

As much as you’d like to see the organization move on from players like Lehtera and Weise, the Flyers potentially see value when it comes to killing penalties. 

“We still don’t know exactly what we have this year,” Hakstol said Monday. “We still have another week in camp before we have to make final decisions on who we’re going to travel west with.”

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