Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
Sean Couturier does some magical things on the ice. Just shy of his 22nd birthday, he is already a defensive wizard, often drawing comparisons to the top defensive forwards in the NHL. He wins face-offs (50.1%), kills penalties, and regularly goes up against an opponent’s top scoring line. For all that Couturier brings defensively, however, he has become a liability on the offensive end.
Despite playing almost 19 minutes a night, the second generation center’s contributions to the Flyers offense has been limited. For the first time in his career, Couts is playing consistent power play minutes, but the results have been anything but successful. He recently recorded his first power play goal, but his season point total is just nine (five goals, four assists) through 24 games.
The Flyers made the Arizona native the eighth overall pick of the 2011 draft. At the time, although listed among the top prospects, Couturier saw himself fall in the draft due to questions about his offensive game. His “offensive drought” would later be excused because he played the 2010-11 season with mononucleosis. In juniors, Couturier posted back-to-back 96-point seasons with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. In the second 96-point campaign, the center only played 58 games, ten less than the year before.
So why can’t Sean Couturier score? His inept offense in the NHL is not his fault, rather it is that of the Flyers and former coach Peter Laviolette.
As we know, Couturier broke camp with the Flyers and would have a strong rookie season, finishing with 13 goals and 14 assists in 77 games. Expectations would be high in a sophomore campaign, but the NHL lockout sent the youngster to the AHL. With the Phantoms, Couturier recaptured his offensive touch, notching 10 goals and 18 assists in just 31 games. The second year center was ready to explode in year two following the lockout. Instead, he was slow out the gate, scoring just four goals and recording just 15 points.
The following year, again, Couturier slumped out the gate, finishing the year with just 13 goals and 26 assists. So, what gives?
It’s simple really, the Flyers hurt Couturier’s offensive development. The fourth year center entered the NHL strong defensively and was given an important role as a young player. With a coach as demanding as Laviolette, Couturier focused solely on defense, often forgoing offensive opportunities. Eventually, when given the chance, the young player had so much increased pressure on himself to succeed, he could not.
Now is the time to trade Sean Couturier. There is no discounting the he is a phenomenal defensive player, but his offensive game remains untapped. There is little doubt that he could turn into a Jordan Staal-type player, averaging around 20-25 goals and 60 points on the season, but in Philadelphia, Couturier will not become that player. We’ve seen the best of Couturier in Orange and Black, a 40-point scorer who can shut down a top line, but he can be so much more.
So now is the time to trade him while his value is still high. It is conceivable that the Flyers could trade the center for a top-line winger or a top-four defensemen. But whatever move the Flyers may make, it is imperative to perform their due diligence, or Couturier may be the next young forward to bloom in a city other than Philadelphia, with little to show for in return. We’ve lived through that story too many times.
Hal Greenblatt covers the Eagles and Flyers for Pattison Ave. Follow him on Twitter: @HMGreenblatt