In the final game of the 2021-22 Flyers season, both Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson were out with injuries that ended their season early. Much of the offseason that followed relied on hope that all players, beyond those two, would be able to return to the lineup and be effective.

Before camp even got underway, Couturier was injured again and headed for another back surgery. Atkinson battled injury over the preseason. Both never played a game in the 2022-23 season.

On the first day of training camp on Thursday, both were back on the ice, both fully cleared and ready to go.

“This was a big test. This is hard on the body. It’s tough mentally,” Couturier said. “Next thing up is probably scrimmages and then exhibition games and then regular season games. When the real games come, that’s when it will matter for sure.”

“I started skating right away [this offseason]. I’m ready to go,” Atkinson said. “I feel as ready as I’m going to be. Just looking forward to starting practice and getting into some exhibition games.”

Couturier and Atkinson have both been successful NHL players over the years. They have become established parts of the roster. They have been productive with regularity. Losing an entire season can create some skepticism about both long-term health and where their production could go. 

For both players, there is a lot to prove, both in performance and durability.

“They have their reasons to question or doubt. I know what I’m capable of and the kind of person I am and the character I have,” Couturier said. “Not only to them, but to myself, I want to prove that I’m able to be the player I was, if not better.”

“My whole life I’ve had to prove people wrong. I’ve used that to fuel my fire, to shove it in your face,” Atkinson said. “I’ve got to prove myself even more so this year. That’s why I prepared better than I ever have this offseason. It’s going to be a long season, but I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m excited to get to work, to prove people wrong, and show what I’m capable of. It feels good to feel normal, feel myself on the ice. I think that’s what’s most exciting for me.”

They will get their chance soon enough. Head coach John Tortorella already has history with Atkinson and knows what he brings to a lineup. He’s also seen plenty of Couturier from afar over the years, and now gets the chance to learn more about the type of player he is off the ice. 

As for their usage, particularly during camp and the preseason, it sounds like Tortorella is already taking the training wheels off.

“I’m not going to overthink it. They’ve put in a lot of work prior to us just starting here today. They’re ready to go,” Tortorella said. “They’re going to go to business just like everybody else does. We’re not going to overthink that.”

While there is no specific plan in place for when either Couturier or Atkinson will get into preseason games, the next few days bring the next steps of their progress. The preseason opener is on Monday – which Atkinson alluded to playing in – and scrimmages will be a key part of practices this weekend.

For both players, the physicality of playing in game situations will be a critical step. The physical side is obviously important, but there is also the mental hurdle of taking a hit and battling through. It’s something that Couturier is looking forward to getting past soon.

“Mentally, that’s going to be the big thing to get over with, to play that first game and get hit and see how it feels,” Couturier said. “That’s what I kind of want. Everyone’s confident everything’s going to be okay, so I’m not too worried, but obviously just to feel it and actually go through it, that will probably feel better and clear my mind.”

Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on social media @Kevin_Durso.

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