Last year, Nick Cousins entered training camp under a cloud of suspicion and with a tremendous weight on his shoulders. A year later, that cloud and the weight have been lifted and the Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect has his focus squarely — and exclusively — on the ice.
“Obviously, with all the other off-ice distractions, now that it’s over I just concentrate on hockey and just concentrate on my future,” Cousins said. “It’s exciting and I’m happy that it’s all behind me now.”
Cousins and two other players from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were arrested in August 2012 and charged with sexual assault. Those charges were dropped at the request of the prosecution in April 2013 on the grounds that there was “no reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Now, the only prospect that the 5’11, 180-pound forward center needs to focus on is his chance of cracking the Flyers’ roster. He has displayed prodigious offensive talents over the past couple of years; last season, in 64 regular-season games, he scored 27 goals and added 76 assists for 103 points, along with 83 penalty minutes and a plus-19 rating, and in 65 games in the previous season, he accounted for 35 goals and matching totals of 88 points and 88 penalty minutes. But he said that things are different now that he’s auditioning for the NHL.
“The pace is that much higher, the time with the puck, and your decision making needs to be that much higher and that much quicker at the next level, so I’m trying to adapt to that at camp,” he said. “I’m taking it day by day and game by game. It’s not going to take just one game to adjust to; it’s going to take a couple. Hopefully, game by game I get better and better.”
Cousins, drafted in the third round, 68th overall, at the 2011 NHL Draft, said that he’s pleased that the team is testing him. And he knows he has to pass those tests to get to the next level. During a recent NHL preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in London, ON, Cousins was on the ice both killing penalties and in the last minute of a game in which they were behind by a goal.
“I think it’s probably [a test]. It’s only been one game, but it’s nice to get a little bit of trust and a little bit of confidence from the coaching staff — being out there in the last minute,” he said. “At the same time, if they put you out there, you’ve got to do your job. You’ve got to win that face-off or get that goal at the end.”
With the charges behind him, Cousins is looking at this fresh start as an opportunity.
“Wherever I play, whether it’s here or it’s in Adirondack, I think this year’s huge for my development,” he said. “I’ve got to work hard, I’ve got to be smart defensively on both ends of the ice, as well. I’m trying to improve my defensive play and I think the offense will come. I’ve got to be patient with my offensive game because to play at the next level you have to be a two-way player, so I’m trying to work on that and help the team as best as I can.”
Part of that is working on increasing his on-ice speed.
“I think just getting my feet quicker a bit is what I’m trying to improve,” he said. “If you want to get to the next level, you’ve got to be that much faster, right? So I’m trying to improve on my skating and all that stuff, and I’ll be continuing to work on that throughout the season.”
And although Cousins is familiar with the Budweiser Gardens from his days as an opponent of the London Knights, he can’t say that playing his first pre-season game in a known rink offered him any benefits.
“I’ve never really played well here,” he said, laughing. “Coming into London, it’s a tough barn to play in and they’re one of the best teams in the league.
“Obviously it’s nice to come in here and not face the London Knights for once. I was just fortunate to have a good game.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard