Realistic Expectations: Sean Couturier

Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography) And thankfully, this isn't going to happen to Sean this season.

Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
And thankfully, this isn’t going to happen to Sean this season.

Sean Couturier has certainly had one of the more interesting careers in his first few seasons in the NHL. He was a top scorer in the QMJHL prior to being drafted by the Flyers in 2011 before quickly becoming one of the top defensive forwards in the NHL. While his defensive ability is recognized, his scoring hasn’t yet lived up the hype.

After posting back to back 96 point seasons in Junior, Couturier has yet to hit 40 points in an NHL season.

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

Couturier already suppresses shots at a top line level, which is something all Flyers fans have seen from the beginning. However, his shot generation, and scoring rates still come in at third line rates which is concerning for a player with the offensive pedigree Couturier has. A big reason for the lack of scoring can be attributed to his ice time as shown in the above HERO chart from Own the Puck. Couturier’s minutes fall solidly in a defensive role and he sees more time when the Flyers have a lead and are trying to protect it. Also of note, last season Couturier only started 25.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone as shown below.  

Via Puckalytics

Via Puckalytics

In other words, score effects and usage effects have played a huge part in stunting the offensive growth of Couturier in his time in the league. Let’s assume for a minute that Couturier was used in a more fair manner out of the Q rather than his extreme defensive usage.

Using Vollman’s NHLe model, Couturier had 1.57 points per game combined regular season and playoffs in his last season in the Q which means that his expected rookie NHL Points per game was .4 or 34 points per 82 games, double what he actually scored. This of course can be directly attributed to Couturier’s usage, and being given linemates such as Max Talbot, Jody Shelley, Zac Rinaldo, RJ Umberger and a one-legged Matt Read at different points during his career. In essence, Couturier is like a sprinter who can run a 100M dash in 10 seconds, but is asked to hit that 10 second time while carrying around an extra 30lbs in a backpack. It’s just not possible, nor fair to expect that.

Even if you account for rookie growing pains, Couturier had .9 points per game in the AHL during the 2013 NHL Lockout, which translates to a .65 NHLe, and means Couturier’s expectation was 48 points per 82 games, the lack of talent around him, with apologies to healthy Read, wasn’t enough to help him realize his potential.

Hockey is a team sport, and therefore team effects matter. Expecting Couturier to hit expected scoring totals when being asked to carry the burdens of defensive minutes and inferior or injured linemates isn’t fair, but rather just applying the logical fallacy known as moving the goalposts. Looking at Couturier’s performance given the circumstances he was dealt, he exceeded expectations.

Luckily for Couturier, the Flyers made a single change at forward this summer. Zac Rinaldo is out, Sam Gagner is in.

Or:
Goodbye this:

Via Behind the Net

Via Behind the Net

Hello this:

Via Behind the Net

Via Behind the Net

Let’s assume for a moment that the only change the Flyers make at forward is to place Gagner with Couturier and Read and keep the other 3 lines the same.

So, in essence, the player on one of Couturier’s wings would have double the total scoring talent and nearly four times the amount of goals. Also, given that Matt Read’s health should make him good for 20-25 goals, it is safe to assume that Couturier’s wings will score about 20 more goals than last year. Umberger had 9, Read had 8 and Rinaldo had 1, or 18 total, if Read scores 23 and Gagner adds 14, the Flyers add 19 goals from that alone which means Couturier would add a few assists.

 

From an individual standpoint, Couturier did improve his goal scoring rate from 2013-14 to 14-15.

 

Via Behind the Net

Via Behind the Net

 

Via Behind the Net

Via Behind the Net

 

His drop in assists can be attributed to a loss of secondary assists which are more luck based than skill based. In fact, it’s likely that Couturier’s secondary assist totals will be most positively changed by the addition of Gagner and a healthy Read.

After posting a solid .64 G/60 in 13-14, Couturier improved to a nice .69 G/60 in 14-15. His primary assist rate remained unchanged.

Looking at the above chart, Couturier played just over 1100 minutes in 82 games, let’s assume for a minute that the Gagner-Couturier-Read line plays 1100 minutes and stays healthy for all 82 games this season.

 

The additional shots generated by Gagner alone will drive up the assist totals for both Read and Couturier.

Gagner puckalytics

The extra 14.1 CF/60 would mean that the Flyers would have an extra 258.5 Corsi Events For the team in the 1100 minutes played by these 3 players. Given the CSH% of 3.5% for Gagner 4.4% for Couturier and 4.1% for Read, let’s assume the 3 players combine and average to 4% CSH%. This would add 10 goals to the line based on this season’s numbers. Of course, the other 10 goals would likely be added to Read as well for the 20 extra goals to expect from Couturier’s line.

The extra 20 goals from the wings would of course boost Couturier’s assist rate and some regression on secondary assists will likely boost them further. Matt Read and Sam Gagner would likely benefit in the goal column while Couturier would benefit in the assist column.

Then, factoring in Gagner’s assist ability over Rinaldo’s and Couturier might add a goal or two while Read could easily end up closer to 25 goals instead of 20 with his health regression.

Also of excitement, Gagner’s right handed shot, would allow him to play on the second powerplay unit in the spot Giroux uses on the first unit. This exercise looks at 5v5 play only, so Gagner’s powerplay help will drive Couturier’s offensive numbers up even more.

In short, the addition of Sam Gagner will the be the biggest piece to helping Couturier find his offensive game. Between the powerplay improvement and the 5v5 boost, a 20 goal, 30 assist season is not unreasonable if all the needed parts stay healthy. Of course, if the defense improves breakouts and the Flyers really swing their possession ability, a 25 goal season might not be as far away as we think.

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