Couturier Is The New Star in Philly.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been on fire as of late. After an abysmal year where the only positive was landing the second overall pick in the draft due to some lottery luck, they are starting to look like contenders.
With just about a quarter of the season left, the Flyers find themselves within a point of the Washington Capitals for the lead in the Metropolitan division. It shouldn’t be a surprise — this team is flush with talent, especially up front. Wayne Simmonds is fresh off an all-star year, Claude Giroux has been an all-star five times, and Jacob Voracek is leading the NHL in assists this year.
For years, the franchise cornerstone has been Giroux. As the number-one center for Philly, he’s won above 55% of his faceoffs in the last four seasons, averaged around 20 minutes of ice time per game, and has finished top 10 in assists in five different seasons, as well as this year.
Why any coach would experiment with moving a player with stats like those to the wing would be a head-scratcher, unless your Ron Hextall. This season, there is someone else in the faceoff dot on the Flyers top line.
Sean Couturier has been arguably the biggest factor for the Flyers this season. He has always been known as a top defensive player in the league, receiving Selke votes for the league’s best two-way player on multiple occasions. A nice depth piece in previous seasons, Couts had logged around 19 minutes a game and put up no more than 39 points in a season. He is still logging about two minutes per game on the penalty kill.
That was the old Couturier, and he has left the building. The new Couturier has been scoring at a point per game pace, is seventh in the league in goals, has been winning about 52% of his draws, and has logged a +24 plus/minus, all while starting almost 60% of his shifts in his own zone at even strength. He should not only smash his career high in goals and points, but double them by season’s end. At over 21 minutes a game with those numbers, he is both a number-one center and possibly one of the best in the league. Centering Giroux and Voracek, he looks to be the missing link on a team filled with talented forwards.
Why He Is In Elite Company
Scoring and claiming to be elite is one thing, but backing your offensive numbers up is another. Not a single player in the Top 15 in goals can even claim to start half of their shifts in the defensive zone, nor can they claim to have spent more time on the ice this year than Couturier.
To top it all off, Couts is first in both on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice goals for, meaning the puck is more likely to end up in the back of the net with Couturier on the ice than any other player in the league. Even guys like Alex Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby can’t say that.
Why This Year Isn’t An Aberration
Couts is doing the little things differently this year. He has attempted more shots so far this year than any other season, even ones where he played a full 82 games. He has always had a solid shots through percentage (SThr%), which is simply the percentage of his shots that are on net. Couturier has put about 61% of his shots on frame, which is consistent with his career average. More shots obviously can lead to more goals, but also more rebounds, second chances, etc. for his teammates.
He is, and has been, a positive possession player for the last few years. His Corsi For percentage has been steadily increasing every season, and the last three years they have been above 52%. This year, the Flyers control about 56.8% of total shots when he is on the ice at even-strength. While he might only rank 27th in the league, he again is stepping on the ice when the puck is in his own zone almost 60% of the time. No one above him even starts half of their shifts in the defensive zone.
Simply put, the increase in ice time, promotion to the first-line, and increased talent has let Sean Couturier blossom. He is not doing much differently except for shooting more and playing more while continuing to win faceoffs and be stout defensively. If he keeps getting chances and continues to be consistent, there is no reason he shouldn’t be considered one of the best centers in the league.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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