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Don't look now, but Sean Couturier is making a viable case for the Selke Trophy

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Sean Couturier's recent scoring explosion has silenced the doubters. But if the second half of his season resembles his stellar first half, the Flyers' 23-year old center could be in for a much larger prize.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Since the start of December, no forward on the Philadelphia Flyers has been more productive offensively than Sean Couturier. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Couturier racked up dominant point totals in a stellar career in junior hockey with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, but his offensive skillset was slow to translate to the NHL level.

That's changed over the past month. In his last sixteen games, Couturier has seven goals and eight assists for 15 points - nearly a point per game pace. His linemates haven't been the cause of his spike in production, as Couturier has looked just as dangerous alongside Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn as he did with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. Couturier has simply found another gear offensively, regardless of who shares the ice with him.

His newfound scoring touch isn't a complete surprise. As we broke down back in November, Couturier's on-ice shot generation statistics had skyrocketed even when the 23-year old center was struggling to rack up points. The Flyers were generating more scoring chances with Couturier on the ice than they were with top scorer Claude Giroux, so goals and assists for Couturier seemed inevitable so long as his underlying metrics stayed strong.

As the Flyers approach the halfway mark of the season, Couturier has established himself as one of the team's most productive forwards. But Couturier isn't merely delivering results that are impressive relative to his teammates. He's actually matching some of the league's best two-way forwards, such as Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews. If Couturier is able to keep up this pace through the second half of the season, he'll have made a legitimate case for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

Couturier's rate stats on another level

Sean Couturier's shot differential statistics have been near the top of the Philadelphia Flyers charts since November. But now that the young center has added scoring production to his 2015-16 resume, it's difficult to find a Flyers even strength statistical measure with Couturier not either at or near the top. In fact, it's very easy to make the case that Couturier has been the Flyers' best player this season in all situations except the power play. [All statistics via war-on-ice.com unless noted otherwise.]

5v5 Points per 60 Corsi For Percentage Corsi For Relative to Teammates Average Corsi of 5v5 Competition Zone Start Percentage Shorthanded Corsi Against Per 60
Sean Couturier 2.26 55.3% +6.59% 51.18% 42.31% 84.41
Rank Among PHI Forwards 1st 1st 1st 1st 3rd 1st

At even strength, Couturier has been the team's most efficient scorer, averaging 2.26 points per sixty minutes of five-on-five play. For comparison, Jakub Voracek's career Points/60 is 2.04, while Claude Giroux checks in at 1.98. In addition, Couturier has been the best driver of shot attempt differential among Flyers forwards so far this season, leading the team in both Corsi For percentage and Corsi Relative to his teammates.

Couturier is both scoring and driving possession despite functioning as the Flyers' tough minutes center. He continues to regularly face the best possession driving forwards that opponents have to offer, and he still receives more faceoffs in the defensive zone than the offensive zone.

Finally, Couturier remains the penalty killing stalwart that fuels his reputation as a high-end defensive forward. No Flyers forward has done a better job this season at suppressing shot attempts while shorthanded, making it less likely that an opponent will sneak a shot into the back of the net on the power play.

The numbers don't lie. Aside from continued struggles to score on the team's second power play unit, it's difficult to find a hole in Sean Couturier's game.

Couturier's Selke Case

So Sean Couturier's statistics certainly look impressive next to his Philadelphia teammates. But how does he stand up against the best two-way forwards in hockey? Surely regular Selke Trophy nominees like Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Pavel Datsyuk, David Backes and Marian Hossa remain head-and-shoulders above the still-young Couturier.

Not exactly. In fact, Couturier still tops the charts even when compared to many of hockey's truly elite forwards.

Forward Points/60 Corsi For Percentage Corsi Relative to Teammates Corsi of Competition Zone Start Percentage Shorthanded Corsi Against per 60
Sean Couturier 2.26 55.3% +6.59% 51.18% 42.31% 84.41
Anze Kopitar 1.78 56.7% +0.68% 50.08% 49.28% 102.52
Pavel Datsyuk 1.67 57.2% +6.87% 50.47% 62.03% N/A
Patrice Bergeron 1.42 53.1% +5.51% 50.29% 40.44% 88.13
Jonathan Toews 1.23 53.38% +1.94% 50.54% 58.61% 99.23
David Backes 1.17 50.43% -2.77% 50.26% 40.72% 93.98
Marian Hossa 0.95 53.77% +2.27% 50.16% 56.54% 90.37

None of the usual candidates possess the all-encompassing resume of Couturier thus far in 2015-16. Bergeron matches up nicely in terms of Corsi and usage, but has not scored at the same 5v5 efficiency level as the Flyers center. Datsyuk has delivered stellar possession statistics, but his usage has been more favorable and he no longer plays on Detroit's penalty kill. Toews and Kopitar have posted strong shot attempt differentials as well, but their performance is less impressive when evaluated next to the relative strength of their teammates.

Couturier, on the other hand, has posted a Corsi For percentage in line with the best two-way forwards in the game, despite playing on a middle-of-the-road puck possession team. His 2.26 five-on-five Points per 60 ranks him 19th among all NHL forwards, and he's 13th in the NHL in shorthanded on-ice shot suppression among forwards who have played at 50 minutes on the penalty kill this year.

And while the effect of usage on both Corsi and point production is often overstated, it shouldn't be disregarded that Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has given Couturier tough matchups, relative to both his teammates and the league at large. In fact, from a puck possession standpoint, Couturier has faced the toughest opponents of any forward in the NHL through the season's first half.

You read that right - no forward in the entire league has faced better puck possession opponents on average this season. Yet Couturier still owns a 55.3% Corsi For percentage. He's facing top opponents and burying them on a regular basis.

That sure seems like a nice, eye-catching statistic to convince Selke voters.

Can he keep this up?

If Sean Couturier delivers a second-half performance that replicates his first 34 games, it will be difficult to deny him a nomination for the Selke Trophy. But unlike Messrs. Bergeron, Toews, Datsyuk and Kopitar, Couturier does not yet possess an extended track record of this level of play.

In previous seasons, Couturier has hovered around the break-even point in terms of puck possession. And his best even strength scoring rate season was his rookie year, when the Flyers' center finished at 1.66, significantly lower than his current 2.26 mark.

As a result, it's not difficult to envision a scenario in which Couturier's rest-of-season statistical performance runs closer to his historical rates. At the same time, the age-23 forward is just entering his prime years, so the possibility that his true talent level may have taken a legitimate leap cannot be discounted.

Regardless, Couturier will have a tough road ahead of him to steal the Selke Trophy away from the usual suspects, even if he continues his stellar play. The Selke nominees rarely change from year-to-year, and it can take a Herculean effort for a new face to break through as a nominee, let alone a winner.

But through 34 games, the statistics show a player who has made that type of Herculean effort. If Sean Couturier can avoid a dropoff in performance the rest of the way, the NHL could see a new face up on the podium in June.