Sean Couturier getting Flyers captaincy ‘bodes well for the organization,’ says Chris Pronger

TORONTO — It didn’t take long for the Flyers’ most recent captain to reach out to their newly minted one. Sean Couturier got a text from Claude Giroux on Wednesday night, shortly after the team revealed that Couturier was to become the 20th captain in franchise history.

And while Couturier “definitely learned a lot” from Giroux, his teammate for more than 11 seasons, he also valued his experience as a rookie in 2011-12 when it was Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger wearing the “C.”

They didn’t play together all that much, as Pronger skated in only 13 games that season before he was forced to retire due to concussion and right-eye issues. But one moment, in one practice early in his career, has apparently stayed with Couturier all these years.

“One of my first practices, I came down on a two-on-one, and it was on him and I kind of slowed down,” Couturier said on Thursday morning, before the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime loss in Toronto, in which they erased a two-goal deficit in the third period to get a point in the standings.

“He came up to me and was like, ‘You can’t slow the game down like that. It’s the NHL. It’s fast. In a game, this won’t happen.’ He was right. … He was all about making sure we had good habits in practices and in games. That’s one thing that stood out to me early on.”

Pronger, reached by phone on Thursday, wasn’t all that surprised to hear that anecdote.

“There’s nobody backchecking you in practice. You’ve got to make it game-like. If you’re coming in creeping super slow, it’s just not game-like,” Pronger said. “I’m trying to get better, too. I want to take reps in real-time, game simulations, too, so that I can get better. He’s a good player, I want to be able to go against those guys in practice so I know how to defend.”

Couturier quickly caught on. And Pronger was impressed with the then-teenager who entered the league just a few months after the Flyers made him the No. 8 pick in the 2011 draft.

“I thought him very mature for 18, 19 years old,” Pronger recalled. “Good head on his shoulders, didn’t really get rattled. Played hard and had a pretty significant role in his rookie season when I was there.

“As you look at his career arc and where he’s at and his body of work — outside of the injuries, he’s been a very productive player. When healthy, one of the top two-way centers in the game. I think his credentials speak to that.”

The Flyers hadn’t planned on having a captain this season. So why did they name a leadership group — including alternates Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton — now?

“I think our room has grown as we started the year,” coach John Tortorella said. “We subtracted last summer in order to get our room in order. It’s grown, and I think it’s time that we added to the leadership group. Sean’s handled himself very well since he’s come back. I think he’s very well respected in the room. That’s the choice.”

“We felt it was time,” general manager Daniel Briere told The Athletic. “The team has taken a big step forward this season in maturity. And a big reason why is Sean Couturier being back in the lineup after missing almost close to two seasons. You know, I think it makes sense. Earlier this season, not naming a captain, part of the reason was, Torts hadn’t got a chance to know Sean really well, but everybody around the team was telling him that he was captain material. But Torts wanted, I assume, to get to know him better.

“And at this time, the way we’ve been playing and evolving this year, and the way Sean has been carrying himself throughout the season, after coming back from a long hiatus, it was time. I’ve seen him grow from being drafted when he was 18 years old to today. Just maturity from an early age. You just knew that at some point he would be captain material.”

Couturier, who found out about the decision prior to the Flyers’ practice on Wednesday at their team facility, made an impression on Tortorella even before playing for him. Late last season, while rehabbing from multiple back surgeries that kept him out from Dec. 2022 on, he was lobbying to get back into a game rather than waiting until the start of this season.

“He was a pain in the a– for me last year because he wanted to play. He did nothing but complain to me, this that and the other thing,” Tortorella said.

Tortorella admitted on Thursday morning that he didn’t know what to expect from Couturier on or off the ice, even though he respected him as a player after years of coaching against him, and appreciating his approach to the game from the opposing bench.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” he said. “I’ve been in the league for a while and watched him play from afar, against him. And I’ve always had a ton of respect as far as how he plays the game. I have a different level of respect, how he’s handled this situation. Two major operations, aggravation of not playing two years. … This is a good time to give him the reigns as far as wearing that C.”

Couturier having to fight through those back surgeries to become an important on-ice contributor again, with 11 goals and 33 points in 51 games, has only solidified his reputation as a leader in the dressing room. That’s what Pronger figures, anyway.

“That alone is the will and the drive and determination to fight through … especially a back (injury),” he said. “I’ve had back surgery. It sucks. You’re going to have the respect of your locker room, the team, the organization, just having gone through and fought through the battles just to get healthy and get back in the lineup. And now to be named captain shows that he’s proven he can be healthy and be a big part of the team again. I think, moving forward, that bodes well for the organization.”

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun contributed to this report.

(Photo of Sean Couturier: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)

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