Could Couturier’s injury mean a shake-up for the Flyers?
During the early hours of the day on Wednesday, reports came out that Flyers first-line center Sean Couturier had reinjured his knee. The original injury stemmed from a collision with Radko Gudas during practice in April, in the midst of a playoff battle against the Penguins. Couturier’s injury turned out to be a torn MCL.
#BREAKING Our @6abc video of @NHLFlyers star Sean Couturier going DOWN at practice today after colliding with Radko Gudas. He limps off with the trainer. Claude Giroux told me “it didn’t look good.” So far no update from the #Flyers #NHLPlayoffs2018 #EarnTomorrow pic.twitter.com/SlfplFKjUd
— Jamie Apody (@JamieApody) April 17, 2018
Couturier went on to play through his injury, scoring five goals and four assists in five games. Losing the young star for a significant amount of time would be detrimental to the Flyer’s plan. How could Couturier’s injury impact the Flyer’s opening night roster?
An already shallow pool at Center
This offseason Flyers fans and analysts have been deliberating who would be the third-line center. With Couturier’s injury, that same debate now must be made for the second-line center position.
Sophomore Nolan Patrick could certainly step into a first line role, but then what? Both Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal have emerged as early candidates for the third-line center role. Unless one of the two has hit a new stride this off-season, neither are considered ready to play top-six minutes.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, Couturier’s injury could mean certain players will have to step into a bigger role. Weal does have the speed to center the second-line. The 26-year old did show flashes of brilliance at the end of the 2016-17 season. Playing with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek could potentially spark something.
Jordan Weal ties the game 1-1 vs. Penguins with late first period goal pic.twitter.com/OtFcMTmXYy
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 26, 2017
Putting Weal as the second-line center would force Hakstol’s hand in the rest of the line-up. Laughton would play the third-line center role, and Jori Lehtera would likely center the fourth.
Most Flyers fans would prefer to see Lehtera as a healthy scratch due to his decreasing playmaking abilities. However, if Couturier’s injury is still nagging him in October, GM Ron Hextall might be forced to use Lehtera in the line-up.
Other potential options
One unpopular opinion that has been made this off-season is to move Captain Claude Giroux back to the center position. Coming off of a career season with 102 points, that idea seemed ridiculous to most. However, just to start the season, it might not be the worst idea.
The Flyers have much greater depth at wing right now than they do at center. The face-off master is versatile enough to play at either position. Giroux is the best short-term fix if Couturier has any hiccups in his recovery. During camp, however, the captain will still be preparing to play left wing.
That would leave Giroux likely centering Van Riemsdyk and Konecny. Patrick would stay on the third line between Voracek and likely Oskar Lindblom. Additionally, the third-line would consist of Wayne Simmonds and Weal centered by Laughton. Lastly, the fourth-line would fill out with Lehtera between Michael Raffl and either Dale Weise or Taylor Leier. All things considered, that is still a strong line-up.
It’s always optimistic in Philadelphia
All of these options, thankfully, are only speculation. Hextall said that he expects Couturier to be ready to play by the middle of training camp. If either Morgan Frost or Mikhail Vorobyev make a major splash at camp, it is possible that one could make the team due to Couturier’s injury.
Hextall says Couturier was injured on a freak play Aug. 10 during an exhibition game, that it’s NOT the exact same spot (MCL in right knee) from playoff injury. Hextall expects Couturier to be full-go by middle of training camp. #Flyers
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) August 22, 2018
However, giving Frost a roster spot could potentially hurt the team in the long run, because he is not AHL eligible. Using Vorobyev, or even Michael Vecchione is a more realistic option for the Flyers.
I believe Couturier will be ready to go by the season opener. If he’s not, however, I would expect to see Giroux center the first-line. He will just to keep the spot warm until Couturier is ready to return. Flyers fans everywhere hope for a quick recovery.