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Sean Couturier's offensive breakout must come on the power play

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Sean Couturier has offensive talent, but he doesn't get to use it at even strength. If you want him to break out, it's going to have to come on the power play.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I don't want to pick on John R. here, but this is a common refrain among Flyers fans and we need to talk about it. It's true that Sean Couturier hasn't scored much as an NHL player. He has just 81 points in 205 NHL regular season games to date.

But Sean Couturier absolutely has offensive skills. Here are numbers before he turned pro:

Season Team League GP G A P PPG
2005-06 Chaleur Lightning Bantam AAA NB Bantam AAA 27 38 43 81 3.00
2006-07 Miramichi Rivermen Midget AAA NB/PEI Major Midget 34 20 27 47 1.38
2007-08 Notre Dame Hounds Midget AAA Sask. Midget AAA 40 19 37 56 1.40
Canada Atlantic U17 U17 Hockey Challenge 5 0 1 1 0.20
2008-09 Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL 58 9 22 31 0.53
Canada Atlantic U17 U17 Hockey Challenge 5 5 4 9 1.80
2009-10 Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL 68 41 55 96 1.41
2010-11 Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL 58 36 60 96 1.66
Canada U20 U20 World Junior 7 2 1 3 0.43

I mean, dang. The QMJHL is a good league and Couturier dominated it, scoring more than a point and a half per game in his last season there. Those aren't Sidney Crosby numbers -- he averaged 2.5 points per game in the Q -- but they're still impressive. Sean Couturier has demonstrated a high level of offensive skill his entire life.

Fine. Why doesn't he score with the Flyers?

Junior success doesn't necessarily carry over to the NHL, of course. The players are bigger and better, and it's certainly possible that Couturier just can't compete offensively at this level. You can believe that if you want, but I'm going to be a biiiiit more optimistic than that.

Instead, look at the situations in which the Flyers use him. Only 8 players in the entire NHL played more than 2,000 minutes at even strength last season and also started more shifts in the defensive end than Sean Couturier. He's not being used in offensive situations by Craig Berube (and Peter Laviolette before him) and therefore is always going to struggle to score like the team's or the league's top offensive players.

Here's a chart featuring every Flyers forward who played more than 70 games last season, highlighting the positions they were put in by the coaching staff at even strength (click or zoom to enlarge):

13-14 player usage 70 gp-plus

The answer, then?

Play him in offensive situations more often, obviously. That's probably not going to happen at even strength, because Couturier is pretty entrenched as the team's shutdown center. He's going to play tough minutes against the Alex Ovechkin's and John Tavares' and Sidney Crosby's of the world because the Flyers need him to and he's really good at it.

In those situations he can probably do a better job of escaping the defensive end and moving the puck up the ice towards the attacking end, but it's always going to be an uphill battle for him. Stopping the other team's best player is currently Couturier's mandate at even strength. Scoring and creating offensive chances is just gravy.

So if it's not going to happen at even strength, and you want him to score more -- like Ron Hextall told us last month -- he's going to need more power play time. Personally, I'm fine leaving the scoring and PP time to the top-6 forwards and leaving Couturier for tough defensive minutes and PK time.

But Craig Berube says he's going to push Couturier offensively this year, and if that happens, it's going to have to come on the power play.