MONTREAL - Sitting in his stall inside the Bell Centre, Jaromir Jagr was reminded yesterday that - theoretically - rookie Sean Couturier, who is nearly 21 years his junior, could be his son.
Jagr, 39, could do little more than shake his head.
"Nah, he couldn't," Jagr replied, sighing. "Because he really plays good defense, and I don't."
It was Couturier's back-to-back 96-point seasons in junior hockey that likely landed him as the No. 8 overall pick in June's draft. It will be his defensive instincts and awareness on the penalty kill that will in all likelihood keep him in the NHL this season.
Tonight, Couturier, 18, is expected to remain in the Flyers' lineup for his all-important 10th game of the season, which would allow the counter to finally start ticking on his 3-year, entry-level deal.
That also meant Couturier's final audition - his final chance to sell the Flyers on whether to keep him or send him back to the Quebec Major Junior League - was last night against the Canadiens, a team he grew up watching in French-speaking Bathurst, New Brunswick.
Couturier said yesterday he was "still waiting to hear" about the Flyers' final decision.
"I'm still taking this one game at a time," he said before the game. "The adaptation is going well. I'm still trying to keep working hard and soaking in the moment."
The consensus within the Flyers organization is that Couturier, who has played a rather significant role on the first penalty-killing unit, can continue to learn on the job, as he has established himself as a player who "gets it" and fits in well with the team's style and identity.
"He came in touted as a smart player defensively, someone who is as good in the defensive zone as he is in the offensive zone," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We've put him in situations, 5-on-4, 5-on-3, against top players, to see how he'd respond, and he's done everything that we've asked him to do and do it well. He's been a nice addition."
Couturier acknowledged yesterday he was surprised Laviolette has had so much confidence in him early in the season. That confidence hasn't waned. But with the addition of Brayden Schenn to the roster last week, Couturier's minutes have dwindled.
Since Schenn joined the team, Couturier's average minutes went from 15:34 per game to 10:04 over the three previous games before last night's 13:12. His even-strength time had been shaved from 10:13 per game to 7:41, before last night's 8:29.
And he's gone from playing a secondary scoring role, on a line with Matt Read and Scott Hartnell, to a line from which no scoring is expected, with Jody Shelley and Max Talbot.
Couturier is a complete player, as his two goals and two assists in his first six games showed. He can score in this league.
But the fear is that with limited attacking time, which would undoubtedly decrease as the competition stiffens later in the season, Couturier's progress would be stunted, as only part of his game - the defense and penalty kill - continues to develop.
The Flyers already saw that happen with a player, Andreas Nodl, who was a point-per-game scorer in the NCAA, but was recalled to a similar defensive role in his rookie year, and the scoring has never flourished. That's one reason why Nodl has been a healthy scratch the last two games - that type of player is a dime-a-dozen on this Flyers roster.
The absolute worst-case scenario would be for the Flyers to decide tonight that Couturier can stick in the big leagues, but change their minds later in the season. They did that with defenseman Luca Sbisa is 2008-09, when he played 38 games before being sent back to juniors.
Doing that would waste a year on Couturier's entry-level deal and get him that much closer to his second contract, which players such as James van Riemsdyk ($25.5 million) and, previously, Jeff Carter ($58 million) and Mike Richards ($68 million) have found to be very lucrative.
With Ottawa sending sixth overall pick Mika Zibanejad back to Sweden yesterday, Couturier is one of only four players remaining in the NHL from June's draft. There is a reason why the other 206 players didn't make it.
Keeping Couturier is a commitment from Laviolette that he will find a way to continue to get him the minutes needed to develop, even through low points.
Last night, against Montreal, Couturier remained as cool as ever.
"I don't think they'll base their decision on one game," he said with a smile. "We'll see what happens. I'm proud to still be here. I'm just trying to get better every day."
There was no news on Chris Pronger's status, as he continues to adhere to orders of strict bed rest by eye specialist Dr. Stephen Goldman.
Goldman monitored Pronger again yesterday, telling general manager Paul Holmgren the defenseman is "progressing nicely."
As each day passes without a complication, the chances that Pronger makes a quick and complete recovery from Monday night's high-stick to his right eye increase dramatically.
According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, only 10 percent of the league's roughly 700 players 10 years ago wore a facial visor, which might have prevented Pronger's injury. That number is up to 68 percent this year.