SEAN COUTURIER stepped onto the ice last night for an offseason workout in Drummondville, Quebec - where he played his junior hockey - and did so knowing he had some newfound security in his life.
The Flyers' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, chosen eighth overall, was entering the final year of a two-year, $3.5 million contract that would have left him as a restricted free agent following the 2015-16 season.
Now, he's signed through 2022.
The Flyers and Couturier agreed on a reported six-year extension worth about $26 million. The contract, which kicks in to start the 2016-17 season, carries an average salary-cap hit of $4.33 million per season. Couturier's $1.75 million hit for this upcoming season still stands. He said the long-term deal was something both sides wanted.
"It means the Flyers organization [believes] in me, and I'm really happy to be there for the next six years," Couturier said on a conference call before hitting the ice. "I love the organization, the city, and I think the future is bright in Philly. Hopefully, we can do some good things during those six years."
The Flyers sure hope so, too, investing time and years in a player who was entering sort of a "prove-it" season.
Under former coaches Craig Berube and Peter Laviolette, Couturier built a reputation around the NHL as one of the game's premier young defensive forwards. He was tasked with shutting down Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins in the 2012 playoffs - which he did. But receiving a defensive role and starting about half his shifts in the defensive zone might have limited his offensive growth.
In his role centering the third line, Couturier was paired a lot last season with R.J. Umberger and Matt Read, two players who struggled offensively.
Still, Couturier tallied a career-high 15 goals to go with 22 assists last season, his fourth in the league. He's also been pretty durable, appearing in 198 consecutive games, ranking third on the team behind wingers Jakub Voracek (226) and Brayden Schenn (208).
Many, including Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, think there's more offense to be seen. Even new coach Dave Hakstol said during the team's prospect development camp earlier in the month that he was "looking for [Couturier] to take another step forward."
Maybe Hakstol's new system can bring on the more dynamic, two-way role the Flyers are looking for - and paying for - from their young center.
Hakstol was mum when asked about potential line combinations. Couturier said he'd spoken only briefly to his new coach and didn't get into what his role would be this season.
As it stands, this contract certainly validates Hextall's indications throughout the offseason that Couturier could center the team's second line. At the very least, he'll have a chance to pencil his own name into that role come training camp in September.
Will he approach this camp any differently?
"Not really. I've been playing 18 minutes a game the last two years," Couturier said. "We'll see in the situations I'm put in. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do my best at the role they give me and what they want and what they expect from me. Whatever I can do to help the team win."
Couturier had a strong showing during this year's World Championships, posting three goals and four assists in 10 games for the champion Canadian team.
That, Hextall says, should be a big confidence booster.
"I say it over and over, but Coots is 22 years old," Hextall said in June. "He's still a young kid. But let's get it to the 22-year-old version that he's capable of."
Given this contract, the Flyers clearly think he'll get to that version in the near future. And if he pans out as the Flyers expect, they'd have correctly gambled and will have a talented center, in his prime, at a reasonable cap hit for practically the duration of the six-year deal.
"It's a nice boost of confidence, for sure," Couturier said. "I'm really looking forward to coming to camp and [trying] to take another step forward. I'm not going to change as a player, as a person. I'm going to be the same type of player, just try to definitely produce a little more offensively. That would be great."