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Flyers rookies making a case with their play

By Sam Carchidi
Inquirer Staff Writer

NASHVILLE - Winger Matt Read entered Friday tied for the NHL rookie lead with 13 goals and could become the first Calder Trophy winner in Flyers history.

Center Sean Couturier, a penalty-killing whiz who recently turned 19, has scored goals in three straight - including consecutive game-winners - and looks like the steal of the 2011 draft.

Defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, another player who made his NHL debut this season, has provided solid minutes since being promoted from Adirondack in November - and has shown a willingness to be a scrapper and to get involved in the offense.

For the Flyers, the rookie class of 2012 - which includes Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, and Harry Zolnierczyk, all of whom have been important contributors - appears destined to be one of the franchise's best.

Erik Gustafsson, a promising defenseman whose season was stalled by wrist surgery, is another rookie, and he could be on the cusp of becoming a regular.

"I think there's a development in young players, even in their first year," said coach Peter Laviolette, whose team will face Nashville on Saturday night.

"You go from trying to fit in and find your way to feeling like, 'Hey, I belong here,' and the next step is to feel like you're a contributing factor."

From the start of the season, Laviolette has shown faith in the rookies, as demonstrated by his never shying away from playing Couturier and Read in late-game situations.

The rookies have rewarded him for his confidence in them. They have combined for 58 points - the most by rookies on any NHL team - in 42 games.

"The more you play, the more comfortable you feel out there and the less you feel like a rookie," Read said. ". . . It's great how every rookie has stepped up, and the coaching staff can trust us on the ice. It's been a blast so far, and I love playing with these guys."

Read has played on all four lines. Lately he has been on the Kid Line, with fellow rookies Couturier and Zolnierczyk.

"We just try to work hard and get better every day," said Couturier, who is third among NHL rookies with a plus-10 rating.

Couturier, whose father, Sylvain, played briefly with the Los Angeles Kings, never played more than 68 games in juniors. He is not worried about an NHL grind that, including the playoffs, could top 100 games.

"It's a long season, but junior is kind of similar," Couturier said. ". . . We just see it as an opportunity."

Flyers rookies are on a pace for 113 points, and though it's not close to the franchise's rookie record of 258 points in 1983-84, there's no question the first-year players have infused the Flyers with speed, energy, and enthusiasm, helping them stay close to first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.

Trade talk. The Flyers on Saturday will face a Nashville team that is led by arguably the league's best defensive pairing: all-stars Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

Weber ($7.5 million cap hit) can become a restricted free agent after the season, and Suter ($3.5 million cap hit) can become an unrestricted free agent.

If the Preds don't think they can re-sign Suter, they may deal him before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

The Flyers have interest, but they would want assurances they could sign Suter, according to league sources. They do not want a rent-a-player they will lose after the season.

The Flyers have been getting lots of calls from teams interested in winger James van Riemsdyk.

In that regard, a Flyers official flatly denied a report that van Riemsdyk would be dealt to Toronto for Luke Schenn, brother of Brayden.

"Not happening," he said.

Breakaways. All-star defenseman Kimmo Timonen did not practice Friday - the ever-popular maintenance day - but said he will play Saturday. Timonen and Scott Hartnell were excited to return to Nashville, where they played before joining the Flyers. "It's like my second home," Timonen said. . . . Gustafsson was paired with Andrej Meszaros at practice and is expected to play for the first time since suffering a wrist injury on Nov. 5. . . . Nashville has won nine of its last 11 home games.
I have to say that Homer did a good job restocking the cupboard. Read being the best one of them all. Getting Jake and Couts for Carter was genius.

Nice group we got right there.
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