Cousins out to be central in Flyers’ plans
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.