Cousins out to be cen­tral in Fly­ers’ plans

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Rob Par­ent rpar­ent @21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Reluc­tan­tSE on Twit­ter

VOORHEES, N.J. >> One of the more pleas­ant of sur­prises for the Fly­ers last sea­son, Nick Cousins used an un­planned op­por­tu­nity at mid­sea­son and turned it into a ride into the NHL play­offs.

There’s no rea­son to think he can’t do it again, given the head­start he ex­pects to have.

“I’m in the best shape of my life com­ing into camp,” Cousins, 23, said as the Fly­ers were open­ing camp at the Skate Zone Fri­day. “I feel good on the ice. I feel con­fi­dent. It’s Day 1 and this is where it all starts. I feel like an NHL player.”

This ca­reer re­boot for Cousins be­gan last Feb. 5 when he was re­called for a sec­ond time last sea­son from Le­high Val­ley. Sean Cou­turier was in­jured and ex­pected to miss ap­prox­i­mately a month. Cousins, who had not im­pressed in a short call-up stint ear­lier in the sea­son, had another chance.

Rather than put him back in a sel­dom-seen role as a fourth-line wing, how­ever, Fly­ers coach Dave Hak­stol, not­ing Cousins’ po­si­tion as the lead­ing scorer on the Phan­toms, started mov­ing him around. Even­tu­ally, Cousins was put at cen­ter of a re­freshed third line, bring­ing an at­tack­ing edge there.

While Cousins didn’t light up the score­sheet, he did score six goals and 10 points in 36 games and showed a knack for well­timed goals. He also im­pressed with his de­fen­sive pos­ture, and seemed to bring out the best in pre­vi­ously strug­gling Scott Laughton and Matt Read on op­po­site wings.

That trio could still be part of the land­scape this sea­son, although there is a lot more com­pe­ti­tion for third- and fourth-line jobs in this Fly­ers train­ing camp.

Cousins meshed well with the 22-year-old Laughton again Fri­day, and also had his mo­ments with new­comer winger Dale Weise.

“It was our first (of­fi­cial) day to­day and we had in­stant chem­istry,” Cousins said. “So if we can build off that and in the pre­sea­son and see where it takes us from there, we’ll be fine.”

It would fig­ure that Read, much more diminu­tive than the 6-2, 205 pound Weise, will find him­self fight­ing for a job in this camp. He scored but 11 goals and 26 points in 79 games last year, and that was com­ing off an 8-goal, 30-point out­lay in 2014-15. This from a guy who scored at about a 23goal clip over his first three sea­sons.

Read seems de­ter­mined to change di­rec­tion this sea­son, hav­ing ramped up his off­sea­son train­ing.

“I feel great. I can’t wait to get started here,” Read said Fri­day. As for his lack­lus­ter pro­duc­tion for much of last sea­son, he added, “I just wasn’t play­ing well enough to stay in the lineup, or con­tinue to be pro­duc­tive of­fen­sively. Com­ing into this year I just have to fo­cus on my skat­ing and use my speed a lit­tle bit more, and just be more tena­cious out there.”

Weise, mean­while, is as close as gen­er­ally re­spon­si­ble man­ager Ron Hex­tall came to buy­ing scor­ing help in the off­sea­son. A vet­eran of four teams, Weise is gen­er­ally known as a fourth-line shut­down wing. But in 56 games with Mon­treal last sea­son, he scored 14 goals and reg­is­tered 26 points. Weise then was traded to Chicago at the dead­line, and with that team re­sumed his de­fenseonly man­dates.

With the Fly­ers, he’s ex­pected to have more of a free hand, and he’s hop­ing to use it if paired up with the youth­ful Cousins and Laughton.

“I was kind of look­ing at some of the guys I thought maybe I’d be play­ing with,” Weise said. “Th­ese two guys I was pretty happy about; they’ve got some good speed, they’ve got some good skill.”

If Weise clicks with Cousins and Laughton, Read might find him­self fight­ing for a spot on the fourth line, peo­pled with such play­ers as holdovers Chris Van­deVelde and Pierre-Edouard Belle­mare, along with free agent signee Boyd Gor­don, a penalty killing spe­cial­ist. There is another free agent who might stick, cen­ter Ro­man Lyu­bi­mov, a vet­eran of the KHL who could work on ei­ther the third or fourth lines.

So for a team that hasn’t been good at killing penal­ties the past cou­ple of years and has had a some­what spotty shut-down record in the neu­tral zone, the check­ing-line con­tin­gent of the Fly­ers has be­come much more crowded and com­pet­i­tive.

It’s a wel­come sight, of course.

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