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What to expect from Sean Couturier next season

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Hint: It’s good

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I took a look at Oskar Lindblom, who has been playing well with team Sweden at the IIHF World Championships. Today, I’m looking at another Flyer who has been performing well for his nation, and as an alternate captain nonetheless! Playing for Alain Vigneualt with team Canada, and now additionally with the Flyers, Sean Couturier has been nothing short of a revelation for the past two seasons. From 2017-18 onward, his point production has nearly doubled, and he has scored 30+ goals for the last two seasons in the process. With the addition of Giroux to his line in 2017-18, Couturier blossomed into the 1C we were dreaming he would be. With Giroux and Couturier paired together, the Flyers had put together one of the best lines in hockey, rotating out the likes of Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny to play on the RW.

So what’s next for Couturier? Will he break 80 points next season? Will he regress? Data suggests he is closer to the former rather than the latter…

What the numbers say

(all advanced stats courtesy of Corsica Hockey)

Sean Couturier: Last 4 seasons

Year Games G A Pts CF% CF% (5v5) xGF Point Shares
Year Games G A Pts CF% CF% (5v5) xGF Point Shares
2015-16 63 11 28 39 52.17 53.93 56.34 4
2016-17 66 14 20 34 54.02 54.69 61.95 3.9
2017-18 82 31 45 76 56.32 53.39 124.26 9
2018-19 80 33 43 76 55.1 52.89 109.18 7.8

As I mentioned earlier, the most poignant observation from Couturier’s stat line is the massive jump in points from 2016-17 to 2017-18. Prior to the breakout year, the main question Flyers fans had regarding Couturier was would ever score 20+ goals and break 40+ points? Heck, 50 points would’ve even been massive for Couturier! I don’t think anybody was expecting Couturier to dominate as he did in 2017-18. He didn’t just take a jump, he LEAPT across into 1C territory, joining the likes of Patrice Bergeron for Selke contention and establishing himself as an elite ‘defensive’ forward.

Interestingly, advanced statistics don’t tell the full story here. Even before the breakout season, Couturier’s Corsi-For percentage (CF%) has always been above 50.0%. As noted in the table, Couturier’s Corsi-For measured in at 54.02% in a season where he only scored 34 points. This leads me to believe that the only disparity in his statistical profile would be his point output. This is also supported by his results in expected goals, where his xGF shot up to 100+ in his breakout season. Last season, with 109.18 xGF, he ranked just below Aleksander Barkov (110.30) and just above Mark Scheifele (107.75). Those are some big name top forwards. The proximity to Barkov is especially interesting, considering both Couturier and Barkov are viewed as top two-way/defensive forwards.

Trends point to even more for Couturier

For comparison, I looked at some fairly good to excellent defensive/two-way forwards to help project for Couturier. I looked at Rod Brind’Amour, Brad Richards, and Jason Arnott (both Richards and Arnott were comparable for Brind’Amour. In terms of adjusted points, even though all three players’ numbers started higher than Couturier’s, once they improved there was a high level of consistency. For example, Brind’Amour started his career in St. Louis at the 40-50 point range (adjusted), then steadily improved until he started to hit 80+ adjusted points (which he did so 4 out of his 8 full seasons as a Flyer. Looking at the point share trends, this is confirmed. Once comparable players hit their peak, they stay fairly consistent until they decline as they head into their mid-thirties. Taking a range of point shares during these comparables’ years in their prime, the range ends up being from 7.5 to 9.5. Not only is this in line with Couturier’s numbers (9.0 in 2017-18 and 7.8 in 2018-19), but it suggests that Couturier could even improve. If Couturier can put up 76 points during a down season for the Flyers, and then assuming he plays with Giroux on the LW, just imagine what he could do then with a more dangerous Flyers team. His Corsi will almost certainly remain high, in between 54.0 and 57.0 (52.0 and 55.0 at 5v5), but I think he could almost easily break 80 points if this point production is the new normal.

We have Hakstol to thank for this

So how did we get here? Did Couturier just suddenly become an elite 1C overnight? Ultimately, we have Dave Hakstol to thank for bringing us the Sean Couturier we have today. Before Hakstol put Couturier on the top line, his possession metrics were consistent. The only discrepancy was in the point output. This isn’t to say that Giroux helped carry Couturier’s results. In fact, I believe that is far from the truth. It is way more evident that Giroux and Couturier complimented each other on the top line, and each helped the other produce more points as Giroux broke 100 for the first time in his career with Couturier at center. As much as we lament him, it was Dave Hakstol who put the pair together, and implemented whatever tactical approach worked for them. This is not to say that specifically Hakstol’s coaching worked with the pair of Couturier and Giroux on the same line. I think it is far likelier that the pair simply have chemistry together rather than it being a system dependent success.

Conclusion

As I said before, I think we can fully expect Couturier to better his previous two seasons. Players that have shown Couturier’s level of success rarely regress backwards this early, and I would expect Couturier to maintain his stellar form for at least another 7 seasons. For next year, however, I think 80-85 points is a realistic prediction for Couturier, if his point shares continue to trend up. That will require him contributing around 9.5 in point shares, though I have no doubts Couturier can do so.


Projections - previous players analyzed:

Claude Giroux

Travis Konecny

Oskar Lindblom