On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers announced forward Sean Couturier recently had successful abdominal surgery. The expected recovery time is between five and six weeks. That means the club's best penalty-killing forward should be ready to participate fully once training camp gets underway in September.
That's important to the Flyers because there are very few players on the Philadelphia roster who can fill Couturier's role quite as well as the 21-year-old Phoenix native.
Couturier is part of the Flyers' top checking line and is one of the best young defensive forwards in the league.
Former NHL player Doug Risebrough, now a scout for the New York Rangers, is impressed by what he's seen Couturier do. He told Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer, "He's pretty young and it [defensive play] seems to come naturally and he knows how to position himself."
Risebrough was also impressed with how Couturier uses his strength. He told Carchidi, "It doesn't really show all the time because it's not a stat, but in stick battles, some of that is a component of strength, and in his case he's only going to get stronger."
Couturier knows the importance of his defensive play. "I try to take pride in my defense and shutting down opposite lines," Couturier explained to Carchidi. "I think as a line, we need to focus on defense first, and try to create some offense off the other team's line trying to cheat."
In addition to his checking-line duties, Couturier is one of the league's best penalty-killers. He averaged 3:25 of ice time per game when the Flyers were shorthanded this season, which was the seventh-highest total in the league. He also led Philadelphia with five shorthanded points.
Offensively, Couturier's game is improving. This year, his third NHL season, he tied a career-high with 13 goals while setting new personal marks with 26 assists and 39 points.
Apparently, Couturier played through this injury during much of the season. "I think there was a point in January where he was checked," former general manager Paul Holmgren told NHL.com on May 2, just after the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs. "But it was never at the point where we had to do anything other than maintenance."
It seemed to have finally caught up with Couturier during the playoffs, when he was held without a point in seven games against the Rangers. He also took three minor penalties in that series.
Would a healthy Couturier made a difference against the Rangers? We'll never know for sure. But the Flyers definitely need their top defensive forward ready for the start of the new season in the fall. With a six-week recovery time, that should not be a problem for Couturier or the Flyers.