“First of all, I’d like to say ‘hello’ to all our great fans in Winnipeg at the MTS Centre, at St. John’s Newfoundland, our affiliate in the American Hockey League, and the great fans that have made [it] all the way here to Minneapolis. The Winnipeg Jets are proud to select from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League… Mark Scheifele.”
That was Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Winnipeg Jets selecting the first draft pick for the newly reborn franchise, 7th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, in fifteen years. The selection was met by a smattering of awkward applause and stifled boos, as the fans that “made all the way here to Minneapolis” had no idea who they drafted. Even the broadcasters were shocked, as Scheifele had been ranked as the 15th best North American skater by Central Scouting prior to the draft.
Sean Couturier was ranked 6th.
Couturier, 19, could have been drafted by the Jets, who are currently enjoying their offseason watching the playoffs like the rest of us. Had Scott Howson had a modicum of foresight and negotiating skills, Couturier could have been a Columbus Blue Jacket while Paul Holmgren, for the second straight year, reluctantly watched his counterparts draft in the first round.
In either scenario, he would have likely continued playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Flash forward to 2012, and Couturier has not only wrapped up his first full regular season in the NHL, but he has just accomplished a feat that only four players have done in history against the Pittsburgh Penguins- completed a hat trick in the playoffs (credit to Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for the statistic).
I was skeptical of the Flyers’ decision to keep him on the roster earlier in the year. It required that the Flyers trade prospect Stefan Legein and a 6th round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings for “future considerations” just to make room for Couturier on the roster, where he would earn fourth line minutes with the likes of playmakers Zac Rinaldo and Jody Shelley.
Peter Laviolette had other ambitions for Couturier, though, and gave him tough assignments from Day One. When was the last time an NHL coach trusted an eighteen year old in his very first NHL game to kill penalties late in the third period?
That’s Laviolette’s style, though. He famously started rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 1 of the 2010-11 NHL season at the CONSOL Energy Center, in spite of his never playing a minute of North American hockey before the preseason.
Bobrovsky went on to win that game, along with four more in Pittsburgh before finally losing in the last game of the regular season in 2012.
The unabashed faith in all of his players has helped Laviolette, along with the organization as a whole, mold their talents into depth players at the NHL level. Couturier may just be 19, but he has succeeded thus far in the 2012 Stanley Cup Quarterfinal series at mitigating the threat of Art Ross Trophy Winner Evgeni Malkin while earning more points in Game Two.
Let that sink in a little. Bathe in it.
It’s premature to say that Couturier will be a Flyer for life, but there should be no question that, had fate not intervened, his future in the NHL would not be as resplendent as it is at this moment.
Couturier is no longer a “prospect” from juniors. He is a Philadelphia Flyer. Pittsburgh, consider yourself on notice.