The first-time Selke finalist had his best season to date, but this level of play was always there just below the surface.
This past season Sean Couturier achieved something that even his biggest defenders couldn’t see coming — he hit the 30-goal mark.
His shot impacts over the course of his career have been talked about enough already, so instead of harping on that, let’s take a closer look at his offensive production. After failing to crack the 40-point plateau throughout the first six seasons of his career, Couturier exploded offensively in 2017-18 scoring 31 goals and putting up a total of 76 points, easily surpassing his previous career highs. It’s a 42 point increase, but here’s the thing; this season doesn’t really look like much of an outlier, at least at 5-on-5.
While the impact of playing alongside Claude Giroux was certainly a factor in Couturier’s fantastic season, his scoring rates didn’t jump all that dramatically. In fact, had he seen the same amount of ice time at 5-on-5 during the 2016-17 season that he did in 2017-18, and had he continued to produce at the same rate, Couturier would have scored 17 goals that season — one more than his 2017-18 campaign. That’s a big “if” statement to make, but it is interesting to note that, in a season where he did not play with Giroux at 5-on-5 at all, Couturier was on pace to score more goals than he did while playing with Giroux last season.
A jump of .23 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 accounted for just 6 of his 5-on-5 points, and if you take those points away from him, his would-be total of 36 is still a respectable number compared to other first line players around the league. So, while his raw point totals surged to levels that almost nobody saw coming, his scoring rates have been at a first line level for a few seasons now.
The biggest jump Couturier saw in his 5-on-5 production came in the form of primary assists, where he had 20 last season, more than double the amount he had in 2016-17, but why did this surge in assists happen? Did Couturier become a better passer, or was it the result of finally getting the opportunity to play with finishers? Considering that his shot contributions dipped slightly this past season, and that his passing profile doesn’t exactly scream “elite set-up man,” the latter seems to be the reason.
Sean, like just about every other Flyers’ forward, relied on low-to-high plays for the large majority of his passes. It’s clearly a quirk of the team’s offensive zone strategy rather than something that Couturier goes out of his way to do himself, and, should the game plan open up for more creativity from the forwards, we could even see an uptick in primaries from Couturier as his passes would become more dangerous.
Gone are the days of Couturier centering a line with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn on his wings, and even if this past season winds up being an outlier in terms of primary assists, it’s entirely plausible to believe that he will pick up more than six secondary assists at 5-on-5 next season if he continues to play with Giroux and Travis Konecny. Both Giroux and Konecny placed top-15 in 5-on-5 goals last season with 21 tallies each and the three should continue to be a dominant top line for the Flyers moving forward.
The Power Play
While the return of James van Riemsdyk may spell the end of Couturier’s time on the top unit, the second unit has to show some kind of improvement based on the talent available. Okay, it doesn’t have to, but with the talent available it really should show improvement. There’s no reason that a potential unit of Couturier, Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim shouldn’t work.
Even if Couturier’s numbers on the power play get cut in half, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to be a 40+ point player at even strength, right up there with the rest of the league’s first liners, and would be pushing towards another 60+ point season at all situations. If he doesn’t lose his spot on the top unit to JvR, it seems probable that he would surpass the 20-point mark on the power play next season for the first time in his career.
A lot of things went right for Couturier, and even if he doesn’t reach his total from last season, 76 points is a big number to match in today’s NHL, he will still provide first-line level offense, and shot impacts, at even strength like he has for the past three seasons.
Sean Couturier has been this good for a while, and now he’s finally getting the opportunities to show it.
Data via Corsica.hockey and Natural Stat Trick