Expectations have seemed to dog Sean Couturier since before he was drafted. He was expected to be the top pick in the 2011 NHL draft, but a case of mono derailed his season and knocked him from that perch. He joined the Flyers with big expectations, and while he met them defensively, critics were upset that he was more or less an elite shut down center, he was not producing at a level you’d want from an 8th overall pick. That changed this season when coach Dave Hakstol moved Claude Giroux to left wing and made Couturier the Flyers number one center.
By The Numbers
Couturier’s offensive explosion had little effect on his two way performance. He was finally, and deservedly, named as a Selke Finalist for the first time in his career as the best defensive forward in the NHL. He remained a stalwart on the penalty killing unit and was a lock to be on the ice late in games where the Flyers were protecting a lead. In short, he achieved the kind of season that has been Patrice Bergeron’s bread and butter.
Given Couturier’s early career usage, he posted very solid possession metrics, but over the last three seasons they have become outstanding. This past season was his best to date. He posted a CF % of 53.2% and a CF REL of +5.6, despite having a DZ start ratio of 56.4%. When the Couturier line was on the ice, it usually meant the Flyers had the puck.
Even Strength Stats
Couturier was also fantastic in the expected goals ledger. His xGF % of 55.05 was only topped by Claude Giroux and Oskar Lindblom (who showed a lot of promise in a 23 game NHL stint). He posted a REL xG of 6.77, again finishing only behind Giroux and Lindblom. The expected goal numbers show that Couturier wasn’t simply keeping the puck out of his own end, but creating a lot of dangerous offensive chances when he was on the ice.
Couturier’s breakout was also helped by getting extended ice time on the Flyers first power play unit. Prior to this past season, Couturier had 3 PPGs and 20 PP assists for his career. In 2017-18 he scored 7 goals and 7 assists, to nearly match his career total in PP points. There was a good deal of concern after the Flyers traded away Brayden Schenn (and his 35 PPGs over the past three seasons) that the Flyer power play would suffer. Couturier slid seamlessly into the role and the Flyers top unit remained dangerous.
The offensive outburst validated Couturier’s defenders who had long argued that if given the opportunity Couturier would be able to produce solid 2C numbers. 31 goals and 76 points went far beyond that mark and gives the Flyers a player that a lot of teams would kill for — a guy who is a legit top tier shut down center, with great size, who can score at an exceptional rate.
Couturier was also one of the few Flyers that didn’t disappoint in the playoffs vs Pittsburgh. He had some struggles early, but played well as the series went on. He suffered a knee injury during practice and missed Game 4. He returned to score the game winner in Game 5 on a torn MCL and then pulled a Willis Reed performance in Game 6, scoring a hat trick with a pair of assists in a 8-5 loss. It was a dominating performance by a guy on one leg and epitomized Couturier’s season.
Three Burning Questions
Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?
Couturier blew past any reasonable expectations, even after accounting for his move to 1C at the end of training camp. Certainly getting a shot to play with Giroux during the latter’s career year helped, but Couturier was no slouch and probably helped Giroux as much as he was helped by Giroux.
What do we expect from this player next season?
Even if Couturier remains the Flyers 1C and plays with Giroux and young right winger Travis Konecny (himself coming off a 24 goal breakout year), expecting 76 points again is likely unrealistic. However, if Couturier remains a top level defensive center and can provide 20-25 goals and 60-65 points, he’ll remain a Selke contender and legit number 1C.
What would we like to see this player improve on?
Honestly, I just want to see him maintain his offensive production. There’s not really many flaws if he can give the Flyers 60-65 points. Maybe he could be a little faster or bury a few more “gimme” type chances. Other than that, critics should be shut down by Couturier’s outstanding 2017-18 season.
Data via Corsica.hockey and Natural Stat Trick