Entering into the 2010-11 season, Sean Couturier was thought by most to be the front-runner to go first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
After all, the Drummondville Voltigeurs forward had just come off a season that saw him tie for the QMJHL’s scoring lead as an underager. As the QMJHL season began, all eyes were on Couturier and not even a fight with mononucleosis over the off-season was expected to slow the six-foot-four centre down.
But with the prospect of being the first QMJHL player selected first overall since Sidney Crosby in 2005, a silence shrouded Couturier in the first half of the year. Not with his on-ice play, but his availability off the ice. The star prospect was, for lack a better term, muted and made unavailable for media interviews.
“At the beginning of the season, he didn’t struggle, but he had a little bit of a hard time with the media situation, because he’s an introverted guy,” Drummondville head coach Mario Duhamel said.
Duhamel continued to describe his star player as a quiet kid who keeps to himself in the dressing room and prefers to let his play do all the talking.
Eager to ensure that Couturier’s discomfort did not become a larger issue, the Voltigeurs chose to step in, as Duhamel explained.
“It’s a process we have with our marketing group here and his agent and they all decide which interview he’s going to make and all that stuff,” he said. “We’ve been working like this since day one. It’s more for him, because Sean is a guy who will be there for everybody and never refuse anybody and so that’s why we establish that process: To help him develop. We wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t lose his focus because the first point is always to make sure he’s ready to play hockey. It’s a lot of stuff for a guy who is 17-years-old and now he’s learned from that.”
While the decision by the Voltigeurs and Couturier’s agent was certainly unique, it is hard to argue with the results.
Couturier was not only successful in cracking Canada’s World Junior squad, but he played a strong complimentary role as the team earned a silver medal.
Meanwhile, in the QMJHL, Couturier matched his previous season’s output with 96 points, while playing in 10 fewer games. Although these numbers placed him fifth in league scoring, it is easy to imagine him winning his second straight league scoring title had he played the full season. In fact, Couturier boasted the best points-per-game of any CHL prospect eligible for the draft.
Despite these accomplishments, most have Couturier slipping out of the top spot as new challengers to the throne appear. Unlike past seasons where there was one or two players widely acknowledged prior to the draft as being head and shoulders above the rest, this season’s draft appears to be wide open.
It remains to be seen if Couturier’s media availability for most of the year will have any bearing on when he is selected on draft day. It is likely that teams will ask him about the situation, both at the Draft Combine and in private interviews, but whatever the case, it definitely puts the phrase ‘letting your play speak for itself’ to the test.