Nostalgia’s for kids, not big-time top-line NHL centres.
And while Sean Couturier’s birth certificate indicates he’s the former, the recent concussion suffered by Philadelphia Flyers teammate Claude Giroux has also made him the latter.
This time last year, the 19-year-old was preparing for the world junior championship; he was eligible to return to the tournament this season, but has given it only a passing thought.
“Of course, I’m thinking about the team as a Canadian guy, but I’m here now, so I’m just focused on the work I need to do,” he said prior to facing the Canadiens on Thursday, a game taken in by his Montreal-born father, former NHL defenceman Sylvain Couturier, and several other family members.
And there he was in the starting lineup, taking the opening faceoff for the Flyers against Lars Eller (he won it, then logged the game’s first shot). In the end, a 4-3 win for the Flyers, Sean Couturier had one assist and three penalties, and was on the ice defending a late Montreal power play.
That Couturier could play in the world junior gold-medal game in January, be drafted in June, and find himself playing top-line minutes in December, isn’t a progression he’s dwelled on unduly.
“I haven’t really thought about it that way, actually, I’m just trying to play as best I can and enjoy myself,” said the lanky centre, who lined up between Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell in his second career game at the Bell Centre.
With Giroux out indefinitely and the team announcing that top defenceman Chris Pronger will miss the remainder of the season, it falls to youngsters such as Couturier, fellow rookie forward Matt Read, and young blueliners such as 22-year-old Marc-André Bourdon to pick up the slack.
Couturier also renewed acquaintances with Habs rookie winger Louis Leblanc, who was also a member of the silver-medal Canadian junior squad in Buffalo last winter, and has similarly been pressed into a front-line role via injuries.
As it happened, it was Leblanc who brought the house down with his first NHL goal, whacking a skittering puck past Sergei Bobrovsky in the second period to tie the game 2-2. The marker earned a standing ovation and cries of “Louuuuu.”
Though Leblanc is a year older and just seven games in to his own NHL career – the 2009 first-rounder was called up last month – he said he’s been impressed from his erstwhile teammate.
“I played against him in junior as well, he’s a very serious guy for his age, he’s got size and he’s a great defensive player, which is what holds a lot of younger players back,” Leblanc said before the game. “I don’t know if he was a little upset at not going in the top three, but from what I’ve seen he’s been having a great year.”
When Couturier was 17, he was projected as the likeliest candidate to be drafted first overall in 2011, and despite two strong seasons in the QMJHL, he slipped to eighth, where the Flyers snapped him up.
Confined primarily to a checking and penalty-killing role, Couturier hasn’t exactly taken the league by storm with his offence (five goals, three assists going in to Thursday), that doesn’t mean he’s not appreciated.
Philly head coach Peter Laviolette has called Couturier his best defensive player, and with Giroux out indefinitely, now is the youngster’s chance to try his hand at an offensive role.
Philly teammate Brayden Schenn, another member of last year’s junior Team Canada (he was Leblanc’s roommate), has no doubt his youthful teammate can do the job.
“He’s just been so impressive to watch in all situations,” said Schenn, yet another Flyers player working his way back from a concussion.
Though Schenn is highly-touted – several preseason scouting reports rated him as the top forward prospect in the NHL – injuries have meant he will likely find himself between his younger teammate when he returns to action.
And as Couturier joked, he may have something else holding him back.
“[Flyers winger Jaromir]Jagr was making jokes that his next centre was going to be a francophone no matter who it was, there are four or five of us at centre,” said the smoothly-bilingual Couturier, who was born in Phoenix but mostly grew up in New Brunswick.