BOSTON - As the days flew off the calendar and he remained at the Flyers' practice facility, rookie Sean Couturier said he had an increasingly good feeling that he was doing what is necessary to impress coach Peter Laviolette.
Starting today, he no longer has to worry about whether he belongs. Couturier, the No. 8 overall pick in June's draft, will make the unlikely jump from junior hockey to the NHL with his debut tonight at TD Garden.
"Ever since I was little, I always dreamed of playing in the NHL," Couturier said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'll do whatever they ask me to do to help the team win."
Couturier's test with the Flyers isn't over yet. Couturier, 18, is one of just nine players from the 2011 draft remaining with their NHL clubs. He can stay with the team for nine games before this season counts as one of the three on his entry-level deal.
Since Couturier is under 20, he would have to be sent back to his junior team in Drummondville, Quebec, instead of the AHL for more seasoning.
"He's been put in a lot of situations in camp, to see whether he can compete and whether he is physically strong enough," Laviolette said. "A lot of them were crucial situations, trying to win a game, killing five-on-three, playing against other teams' top players. I'd say that he responded well in all situations."
Couturier will have plenty of guidance in his NHL journey, from both sides of the rookie experience. New teammate Chris Pronger found his way in the league as a top young pick. Couturier's own father, Sylvain, watched his career flame out after playing 16 games as a 20-year-old rookie.
Since the NHL lockout, just six 18-year-olds have remained in the NHL without returning back to junior hockey. There is a reason for that. Pronger joined as an 18-year-old hotshot from the Peterborough Petes. He is still playing at age 37.
Sylvain Couturier played 16 games for the Kings in 1988 and played in just 17 more NHL games over the remaining 12 years of his pro career.
"It's a huge step," Pronger said. "You're playing against men. Some guys in the league have kids his age. The speed of the game and the skill level, it's a big step. Really, you just need that experience. You can watch guys on TV and little intricacies that they do throughout the course of a game, but until you get in that game speed, you don't understand. He's just going to have to experience it all.
"He's going to have to go into it not with big eyes and play the game how he knows how."
Tonight, Couturier likely will be wide-eyed. It's a safe bet he also will be smiling with his gap-toothed grin.
"I'm just happy to still be here," Couturier said. "It was a good camp for me overall, but now I need to do even better to stay up here."
No hockey player is patient on a game night - especially on Opening Night. Players are superstitious and have rituals that would rival a Catholic Mass. You can bet that the Flyers will be antsy tonight as they watch Boston raise its Stanley Cup banner to the rafters, just 5 months after sweeping the Flyers out of the playoffs.
Just last October, it was the Flyers who raised the Eastern Conference championship banner. That seems like eons ago.
"It's never fun when you've got to go into the opposing team's building and there is a ceremony, especially when it's as significant as this one," Pronger said. "But you can use that to your advantage and look and see the emotions and hope you're doing the same thing next year."
As expected, Flyers forward Blair Betts was plucked off waivers yesterday by Montreal. The Canadiens will be responsible for his $700,000 salary and he will make his Montreal debut tonight in Toronto.
Betts, 31, is an excellent penalty killer and role player, but his services were made expendable by the additions of Max Talbot and Wayne Simmonds, two younger and more durable players. He played 138 games with the Flyers over two seasons after making the team as a tryout in 2009.
Betts' departure also clears a contract spot in the Flyers' organization, which leaves them at 49 contracts toward the league-enforced 50-contract limit. That ultimately could pave the way for Couturier to remain with the Flyers throughout the season if he impresses enough in the early going.
Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis also cleared waivers. Walker is expected to be the Flyers' sixth defenseman tonight, on a pairing with Braydon Coburn. Andreas Lilja will be the healthy scratch on defense . . . Bartulis was assigned to AHL Adirondack . . . The Flyers are not carrying an extra forward. Rookies Matt Read and Zac Rinaldo will both make their NHL regular-season debuts tonight . . . Ian Laperriere was on the Opening Day roster and counts against the salary cap on the injured reserve. He does not need to be sent to the long-term injured reserve until the Flyers need to make another roster move.