Philadelphia Flyers: Who Is Under More Pressure in 2012-13, Schenn or Couturier?
In the 2011 offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers underwent a moderately sized but majorly significant roster overhaul that changed the complexion of the team.
Team captain Mike Richards and leading scorer Jeff Carter were sent packing in separate trades within hours of one another.
The Richards trade brought over power forward Wayne Simmonds and rookie prospect Brayden Schenn. Carter was traded for winger Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, which fortunately turned into highly touted prospect Sean Couturier.
Couturier impressed in training camp and made the opening day roster, while Schenn spent a short time in the AHL before being called up to the Flyers permanently.
The rapid development of both players led to a surprisingly successful season for the Flyers. The season began with speculation that the Flyers would struggle to score under a new-look roster, but players like Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Simmonds all had career years to make the Flyers offense the third best in hockey.
Secondary scoring and other important contributions came from the team's role players, including Schenn and Couturier.
If the 2012-13 season does not get locked out, the Flyers will find themselves relying on Schenn and Couturier to an even greater degree, a scary prospect for any person familiar with the term "sophomore slump."
Occasionally, a quick start out of the gate as a rookie is only a precursor to a disappointingly small step in a player's second year. Expectations can elevate more quickly than ability.
Who needs to have a better 2012-13 for the Flyers to succeed?
Sean Couturier is the younger of the two players, and while he put up better offensive numbers, Couturier's role is defense-first in 2012-13. In the first round of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Couturier was typically matched up with Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin. All things considered, the rookie performed extraordinarily well.
In 2012-13, Couturier will most likely fill a similar role. Scoring will remain a part of Couturier's game, but on a third line that will likely feature wingers like Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Read and Eric Wellwood, offensive production isn't Couturier's modus operandi.
Pressure will be a part of Couturier's day-to-day experience in 2012-13, as he will be expected to become bigger, stronger and more effective on opposing stars.
However, the bulk of the pressure will fall on Brayden Schenn.
For as impressively consistent as Couturier was in 2011-12, Schenn was streaky. He failed to register a point in the "2011" portion of "2011-12," and it began to look like the crown jewel of the Mike Richards trade was destined to be more of a bust than a Schenn-sation.
Schenn broke the ice at the Winter Classic, opening the scoring with his first goal. He would end the season with 18 points total, but would add nine more in only 11 playoff games. He became a more noticeable presence on the ice, not just with his stick, but with his body as well.
As the 2011-12 year wore on, Schenn got more comfortable mixing things up with other pros.
Schenn will likely center the second line with Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds to start 2012-13, a role that has pressure written all over it.
The Flyers succeeded last season because of a potent offense, and in spite of their defense and goaltending. This season, the goaltending remains a question mark, and with injuries to Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros depleting the defense (not to mention the departure of Matt Carle), the defense will need a huge collective step in maturity just to maintain last year's standard.
That leaves plenty of pressure on the offense, and thus on the top six forwards.
Certainly the Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek unit will be expected to produce big, but they will also attract the attention of top opposing defenses.
Wayne Simmonds is capable of putting up big numbers, but he will spend most of his time in front of the opposing net, needing players to get the puck near him. Danny Briere is an offensive talent but has a tendency to disappear before the playoffs.
Schenn is in a position to become a true offensive leader, if he can handle the pressure. If he plays the way he did early in 2011-12, the Flyers offense becomes completely one-dimensional and Peter Laviolette will be forced to switch up lines.
Schenn needs to take a major leap forward over the course of the season. He needs to build his two-way game, he needs to score more and he needs to be a physical force on the ice.
If he can do that, he'll become a household name and a fan favorite in Philadelphia.
If he doesn't, he will have the makings of an enigma—a player with tons of talent that simply doesn't translate on pro-level ice.
Both of these extraordinary sophomores have gigantic opportunities in front of them in 2012-13, but Schenn has more to prove than Couturier.
Dan Kelley has been a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist since 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @dxkelley.
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