Sean Couturier Overdue for Breakout Season

Every year it seems like it’s the same old story with Sean Couturier. Fans set their expectations for the young Philadelphia Flyers center and every year they are let down by his lack of production. Are the expectations for Couturier too high? Is he unable to produce at the NHL level? Or is there something that fans aren’t seeing?

Sean Couturier and His Stellar Junior Resume

First off, Couturier has offensive talent, no doubt about it. He proved it during his time in Junior when he recorded back-to-back 96 point seasons – including a scoring title in 2009-10 – for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He represented Canada several times over the course of his young career, including trips to the U-17 and U-20 world junior championships and he was also a QMJHL champion during his rookie season for Drummondville. His performance over those years led him to be drafted eighth overall by the Flyers, who acquired that pick as well as Jakub Voracek from Columbus in exchange for star forward Jeff Carter.

Sean Couturier Flyers
Sean Couturier (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During his time in the Q, Couturier was a whopping plus-141. Even though plus/minus is becoming frowned upon in the NHL community with the new advanced stats, a plus-141 is an impressive accomplishment. When Couturier played for Canada at the world juniors, he opted to take a defensive role on the third line and sacrificed offense in order to do so. Those kinds of relinquishments are what won him the Mike Bossy Trophy, awarded to the QMJHL player judged to be the most professional prospect.

Offensive Numbers in Context

Sean Couturier prides himself on his shutdown game. He is a complete 200-foot player. His defensive element came to surface in the 2012 playoffs when he frustrated Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin, who was coming off a season that saw him pick up the Art Ross, Hart, and Ted Lindsay trophies. During that series, Couturier also recorded a hat trick.

Sean Couturier Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers are 10-2-1 since the doors opened at the Consol Energy Center.(Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

Since that small stint of success, Couturier has never been able to develop his offensive side that was often raved about by scouts and analysts when he played in the QMJHL. There are many factors to take into account when you look at Couturier’s poor offensive output.

The biggest aspect to consider is his power play time. Couturier gets very little time on the man advantage, which obviously has a large influence on his point totals. In the last three seasons, here are the five best scorers on the Flyers and the percentage of their points at even strength.

  1. Sean Couturier: 110 points – 91 ES points (82.7%)
  2. Jakub Voracek: 197 points – 118 ES points (59.9%)
  3. Brayden Schenn: 161 points – 92 ES points (57.1%)
  4. Wayne Simmonds: 164 points – 92 ES points (56.1%)
  5. Claude Giroux: 198 points – 100 ES points (50.5%)

In that same span, Couturier has racked up a total of…wait for it… 15 power play points, 54 less than the second lowest power play scorer in the top-5 listed above. Now, is it possible that Couturier could surpass his career-high of 39 points if he had as much time on the power play as the others? Easily. With Schenn now out of the picture, Couturier could overtake his spot on the power play and pump his numbers up, giving fans the breakout season they’ve been waiting for.

Sean Couturier
Sean Couturier (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Defensive Responsibility

When looking at the numbers, it’s easy to spot another reason why Couturier has yet to break out. In his six-year NHL career, he has never started in the offensive zone at even strength more than 43% of the time. Everyone is aware that his role is best suited as a shutdown center, but you can’t expect a player to play against top lines and start in his own zone at even strength 55 percent of the time and produce offensively.

In addition, Couturier was probably overwhelmed playing as a second line center, which is why Hextall traded for Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline. That trade pushed Couturier down the depth chart and gave the Flyers more strength up the middle, it also allowed him to grow his game.

Since the addition of Filppula, Couturier put up 18 points in his final 20 games of the regular season. Couturier has had some bad luck with injuries, missing a combined 35 games in the past two seasons. If he was healthy, he would have topped his career high in points without a doubt.

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers, Fantasy Hockey
Sean Couturier has learned to play a particular role with the Flyers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Next season will be very telling about Couturier’s progress. The departure of Schenn and the addition of Filppula will make things interesting. Will he play on the top power play unit? Will he struggle to put up points due to his defensive role? Will we see a Mark Scheifele type break out? Only time will tell.