Sean Couturier and His Secretly Elite Season

 

At first blush, Sean Couturier might not seem like anything special. He’s never hit 40 points in an NHL season and his career high for goals is 15. This seems underwhelming for a former 8th overall pick, ahead of players like Dougie Hamilton, Oscar Klefbom and J.T Miller. But what if I told you that Couturier was the best player on the Philadelphia Flyers already?

 

When you think of the Flyers best players, names like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds surely come to mind. These are all really good players of course, but last season, Sean Couturier was better than all of them. This is not a statement I make lightly. Let me explain.

 

When most fans think Couturier, surely they think of a player who is strong defensively, if a little weak offensively. It’s true that Couturier is strong defensively. Very strong. Only two players did a better job at reducing quality shots against last season, Vernon Fiddler and Nick Shore. The ‘catch’ for Vernon Fiddler is that he does so while suffocating offensive results. He hinders almost as many goals for his team as he does their opponent. Nick Shore is rather inconsequential offensively and is actually a pretty underrated analytics gem. What makes Couturier stand out among these fourth liners is that he does it playing first line minutes and driving offensive play as well.

 

To demonstrate just how great Couturier was last season, I’ve assembled this little exercise. Of the 4 players below, I want you to make a mental note of which you think is the best player.

 

Player:

Relative xGF%: Relative SCF%: Primary Points/60:

Player A

+1.91% +2.82% 1.23

Player B

+10.59% +11.61%

1.28

Player C

+12.47%

+17.52%

1.57

Player D +0.80% -1.47%

1.55

 

I’m sure from context you can guess that the player leading in all three of these categories is Sean Couturier (Player C). The other players? Player A is Jonathan Toews, Player B is Patrice Bergeron and Player D is Anze Kopitar. Those three players are pretty widely considered the best two-way players in the game. None of them do as good of a job generating scoring chances for, or preventing scoring chances against as Couturier. He does this while also providing more impact offense than any of them at even strength. I might also add that the only player on that list who makes less than double what Couturier does is Bergeron (the second best player on the list).

 

While Couturier isn’t a world beater in terms of individual offensive production, he isn’t exactly a slouch. His 2.07 points per hour are almost identical to Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand and Joe Pavelski.

 

In short, Couturier scores at a very high end level, while driving possession 1.88% better than Patrice Bergeron, the player almost unanimously considered the best two-way forward in the NHL. This was an injury shortened season, he played only 63 games, and it was somewhat of an outlier from his previous seasons. For these reasons, I’m not yet ready to declare him the best player in the NHL, but there is a very strong argument that he has one of the best seasons of any player in the league last season. This makes his current contract, six years at $4,333,333, which kicks in this season, look like one of the best bargains in the NHL.

 

Some of his strongest comparables last season include Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton. Assuming he builds off, sustains or even comes close to last seasons level of excellence, he should be one of the top players in the game for a long time. Because he hasn’t won a cup, plays behind the overrated Claude Giroux and doesn’t put up flashy offensive totals, he’ll likely never get the credit he deserves.  

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1 thought on “Sean Couturier and His Secretly Elite Season”

  1. You know he had like 3 points over his last 25+ games last year. Sean Couturier is not even close to Bergeron or Toews. I don’t care what geek stat that you invent. He is not a good enough skater and doesn’t have the hands to score consistenly in the NHL. He is a good 3rd line center. That’s it…he isn’t even that good at faceoffs. Next time actually watch the games…..

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