Universal healthcare, the existence of God, is a hot dog a sandwich??
These debates have raged on since the dawn of time, never reaching a logical conclusion or a final answer. Sean Couturier is the Philadelphia equivalent to these questions.
Ever since “Coots” was drafted eighth overall in 2011, Flyers fans have argued back and forth about the merits and faults in Couturier’s play. There are two camps, the side who believes that he is a quality, defensively minded center essential for a winning team. The opposite side is a segment of people who believe that Couturier is nothing more than a checking center, a disposable, dime a dozen player who is paramount to a third or fourth line fringe player that is easily replaceable. Both of these sides have an amount of validity to their arguments, and its easy to see why Couturier is so highly debated within the Flyers fan community, let’s run down the reasons why.
Now one of the big reasons that what i’ll call the “Pro-Couturier” group adores and supports him so much is because his advanced stats are very good, especially for a player who, for all intents and purposes, has been on a below average team for the past two seasons. Couturier led all Flyers who played 50 or more games in Corsi for percentage (54.5%), and relative Corsi (4.0), posting numbers that are better than the league average. In addition to these numbers, Couturier also led the Flyers in takeaways last year with 46, and that was in spite of him missing 16 games due to injury, further cementing his status as, at the very least, an above-average defensive center. Fans can also look back to the 2012-13 playoff series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, where Couturier matched up with budding superstar Evgeni Malkin, even scoring a hat trick in game two, all as a 19 year old, as an example of what Couturier can do when he is at his very best. Speaking of that 2012-13 year, that seemed to be where the Sean Couturier bandwagon was initially assembled. A fresh faced rookie playing like a seasoned vet in the biggest games of his life was very appealing to Flyers fans, and that set the standard for what was expected from Couturier: nothing less than great play on both sides of the puck.
Unfortunately for Couturier, he was never able to drastically improve his production on the offensive end, he has never surpassed 39 points, and has never scored 20 goals in a season. It is easy to point to his Corsi numbers and other advanced stats to defend him, but at the end of the day, the end product is the most important aspect of the game, and unfortunately Couturier has not yet had an eye-popping year offensively. Another problem with Couturier’s game is the fact that he does not stand up well to the “eye test”. When you intently focus on his play from game to game, you notice certain aspects that look underwhelming, in some instances Couturier can seem completely disengaged. Now most of that can be chalked up to his hockey sense being very high, which can make the game easier for some players who don’t necessarily need to exhaust themselves to make an impact (See: Jagr,Jaromir), but it also is a fact that Couturier’s lax play can sometimes get him in trouble, evidenced by his giveaways per game, which was ranked number two on the Flyers among forwards who played more than 50 games. Adding to this issue is his below average skating, which has not endeared himself to the fan base. While skating fast does not necessarily mean you are producing anything of substance, being a little sluggish is an easy point of criticism, especially in the current NHL where the style of play continues to shift towards quickness and speed.
So what is the answer? Who’s right? Is Sean Couturier the next Patrice Bergeron, or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare?
Well, the most important thing to remember is that Couturier is still only 24 years old, and it is very possible he has not yet reached his full development. It’s feasible that with a reinvigorated forward core and more youthful, offensively minded defense, Couturier’s best offensive days could still be ahead. Obviously, Couturier will almost certainly never reach the scoring heights of a Claude Giroux or a Jake Voracek, but that was never his game in the the first place.
One of the factors that has beleaguered “Coots” throughout his short career is how misunderstood Couturier’s skill set is, he is not a sniper, and he will never score at an elite level, fans need to stop expecting that huge large jump in points, because it most likely will not happen. Once that fact is accepted, it should become easier to appreciate what he does do well, fundamentals, defensive zone play, and penalty killing, and while that isn’t the most exciting play style, it’s certainly necessary.
All in all, there is no one clear answer, Couturier still has a lot of obvious talent, even if on the offensive side of the puck he still needs some polishing. He definitely serves a purpose for the Flyers, as well as any team who wants to be a contender at his current value, anything he can add to his game now is just icing on the cake. At the very least, Couturier will bring responsible defensive play and good possession numbers. If Flyers fans can learn to expect that instead of eye popping scoring numbers, then maybe they can begin to really warm up to “Coots.”
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