Breaking the silence during an otherwise uninteresting gap of the NHL offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers signed forward Sean Couturier to a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension. Despite persistent trade rumors dating back to last offseason, GM Paul Holmgren opted to keep the 20-year-old following a particularly notable sophomore slump.
Drafted eighth overall at the 2011 NHL Draft, Couturier earned a roster spot following training camp, surprising teammates and coaches alike. In his debut season, Couturier notched 13 goals and 14 assists in 77 games, earning himself a spot on the NHL All-Star Rookie Team. His defensive capability made him a valuable asset on the penalty kill.
During the Flyers’ six-game playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Couturier was tasked with defending Evgeni Malkin, the 2011-12 Art Ross Trophy winner, which is awarded to the league’s leading scorer. Malkin registered just one point while Couturier was on the ice throughout the series, while Couturier registered a hat trick.
Couturier’s sophomore outing proved to be far less successful than his rookie season. Promoted to the second line at the outset of the 48-game season, Couturier was demoted to the third line, and he eventually found himself on the fourth line as his season progressed. In 46 games, he registered just four goals and 11 assists. He often looked out of place on the ice, failing to take shots and making rushed, ill-planned passes.
With such a dismal performance in the books, trade rumors began circulating once more. Holmgren stated time and time again that Couturier and fellow youngster Brayden Schenn were untouchable, but the rumors persisted. On July 20, the rumors were finally put to rest, as Holmgren signed Couturier to a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension.
At $1.75 million per year, the contract is an absolute steal for a player of Couturier’s caliber. He demonstrated his potential throughout his rookie season, and his sophomore growing pains should prove to be temporary. In his second year, he was expected to perform to a certain standard, with greater responsibility. He faltered under such pressure, as many young hockey players do.
But this struggle does not mean his success as a rookie was a fluke. He showed he is an NHL-level player, fully capable of shutting down opposing players, Malkin included. The two-year contract extension was very much deserved, and the Flyers were fortunate to sign Couturier at such a low cost, given his upside. With any luck, Couturier will once again prove his potential as an up-and-coming NHL star.