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Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25: Nick Cousins out to keep proving himself at NHL level

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Nick Cousins jumps eight spots in our countdown after a strong stretch run with the Flyers eliminated doubts about his NHL potential. Now, on a team that's so much deeper than last year, will he be able to keep up?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of 2016, when we last compiled our Top 25 Under 25 countdown, then-Phantoms forward Nick Cousins was ranked No. 16 on our list. How things have changed.

Since then, Cousins has taken a big step forward -- from the Phantoms top forward, semi-frequent Flyers call up and AHL All-Star to, potentially, full-time NHLer? And as such, he's jumped a full eight spots in our countdown to No. 8.

No. 8: Nick Cousins

Position: C
Age: 23 (7/20/1993)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Philadelphia (NHL) - 6 G, 4 A in 36 GP
Nationality: Canadian (Belleville, ON)
Acquired Via: 2011 NHL Draft -- Round 3, Pick 68 (Pick acquired via Columbus along with Pick No. 8 in 2011 and Jakub Voracek for Jeff Carter)

Cousins earned his call permanent call up just shortly after we put together that list in January. His first game back with the Flyers was on February 6, and Cousins quickly became a regular, playing in 32 more games down the stretch and all six in the Washington series during the playoffs. He didn't light the scoresheet on fire or anything, only scoring six goals and adding five assists in that stretch.

But he became a valuable third line center, often playing with Matt Read, Sam Gagner and/or Scott Laughton. No matter his line combo, Cousins helped to push play in the right direction, finishing the season with possession numbers in the black. Cousins leans on his speed and stick skills, and he has certainly proven that he is skilled enough to think and play the game at the NHL level. I mean, look at his first NHL goal:

The real question isn't necessarily whether or not he can be an effective player at the NHL level, because he seemed to prove that down the stretch last season. The question entering the 2016-17 season is if he can remain at the NHL level purely by beating out other guys around him. That's the challenge of playing for a team that added so much depth to its organization over the offseason.

Think about the guys who could play in the Flyers' bottom-six out of training camp: Cousins, Laughton, Read, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde, Dale Weise, Boyd Gordon, Jordan Weal, Colin McDonald, Taylor Leier, Roman Lyubimov. Hell, maybe even Travis Konecny.

That's a lot of people fighting for six jobs, and while Cousins is not waiver exempt, he is on a two-way contract. That could put him behind the eight-ball a bit, and a job on the Flyers roster when the team breaks camp is far from guaranteed -- even if he did play in all six playoff games for the team last spring.

Should Cousins make the team, it will be fun to see if he can continue to build up into an offensive contributor at the NHL level. He's not really much of one now, but he certainly has the puck skills to be a solid scorer as he continues to grow into an NHL player. The only problem is that he has a lot of work ahead of himself to earn that opportunity again this fall.

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How we voted for Nick Cousins :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
6 6 7 n/a 10 8 10 7 8 7

How we voted at No. 8 :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
Travis Sanheim Samuel Morin German Rubtsov Anthony Stolarz Samuel Morin Nick Cousins Samuel Morin German Rubtsov Nick Cousins Samuel Morin

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Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: