Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier is having a breakout season. He is on pace for a career-high in points and is routinely paired against the opponent’s top line. His average ice time has jumped nearly three and a half minutes from last season when he averaged 15:53 per game. His face off win percentage has improved from 43.9% to 46.8% and he continues to do the little things at a high level. Ever since he was drafted, Couturier has been touted as a two-way player whose defensive acumen sets him apart. The way he shut down Evgeni Malkin in the 2012 playoffs was a harbinger of things to come for the young center who many believe has still not reached his full potential. This season, many Flyers fans are beginning to claim that Couturier is on his way to the Selke trophy. That may be a bit premature, but it is not as far fetched as it seems. Here is a list of Couturier’s stats this season along with those of each of the last four Selke trophy winners in the season in which they won the award.
2014 Sean Couturier – 37GP – 7G – 10A – +0 – TOI- 19:16 (SH- 3:19/PP- 1:45)
2013 Jonathan Toews – 47GP – 23G – 25A – +28 – TOI- 19:20 (SH- 1:25/PP- 2:41) Other Nominees: Bergeron, Datsyuk
2012 Patrice Bergeron – 81GP – 22G – 42A -+36 – TOI- 18:34 (SH- 1:48/PP- 2:31) Other Nominees: Backes, Datsyuk
2011 Ryan Kesler – 82GP – 41G – 32A – +24 – TOI- 20:29 (SH- 2:33/PP- 3:37) Other Nominees: Toews, Datsyuk
2010 Pavel Datsyuk – 80GP – 27G – 43A – +17 – TOI- 20:20 (SH- 0:44/PP- 3:18) Other Nominees: Kesler, J.Staal
Here is a list of the same statistics. The list below is a measure of how well the past four winners are doing this year. Along with winning the award, those four players have been nominated multiple times and solidified themselves as the top two-way players in the league.
Sean Couturier – 37GP – 7G – 10A – +0 – TOI- 19:16 (SH- 3:19/PP- 1:45)
Jonathan Toews – 39GP – 13G – 21A – +12 – TOI- 20:34 (SH- 1:23/PP- 3:19)
Patrice Bergeron – 37GP – 9G – 10A +14 – TOI- 18:09 (SH- 1:51/PP- 1:54)
Ryan Kesler – 39GP – 15G – 11A – +4 – TOI- 22:05 (SH- 1:56/PP- 3:18)
Pavel Datsyuk – 32GP – 14G – 15A – +1 – TOI- 21:06 (SH- 0:51/PP- 3:11)
Couturier has the fewest points of the players listed. However, when assessing a player’s defensive ability, points are not an accurate measuring stick. In plus/minus, Couturier is slightly behind, but when considering how bad the Flyers were early in the season, having an even plus/minus is not too bad. He plays nearly the same amount of minutes that other top defensive forwards play. One distinguishing stat from above is shorthanded ice time. Couturier plays over three minutes per game shorthanded and has become a fixture on the teams first penalty killing unit. For Craig Berube to consistently put Couturier on the ice in hockey’s most defensive situation says a lot about the defensive awareness of the budding young star.
Below is a list of the same five players in a few selected categories of advanced statistics. For the most part, advanced statistics are used to measure puck possession and shot differential. I compared the players in three categories that are important for defensive forwards. “PD” stands for penalty differential, penalties drawn minus penalties taken. If a player is to be responsible defensively, he will not take unnecessary penalties. On the other hand, good defensive players get under their opponents skin and draw penalties. “DZone Starts at EV” stands for defensive zone starts at even strength. This is the percentage of the player’s shifts that begin in the defensive zone. If a player is a truly gifted defensive forward, his coach will want him on the ice when his team is stuck with a defensive zone face-off. “Corsi For” is a measure of attempted shots while the player is on the ice. While the player being measured is on the ice, “Corsi For” is the percentage of total shots that were attempted by that players team. For example, while Sean Couturier has been on the ice this season, 923 shots have been attempted. Of those shots, 474 were attempted by the Flyers and 449 were attempted by their opponent. 474/923 = 51.4%, therefore his “Corsi For” percentage is 51.4%. It is expected that a forward can create more shots than their opponent. However, many Selke caliber forwards start a lot of their shifts in the defensive and neutral zones, so to have a “Corsi For” percentage over 50% is quite an accomplishment. All advanced stats courtesy of ExtraSkater.com.
Sean Couturier: PD – +4 DZone Starts at EV – 35.6% Corsi For – 51.4%
Jonathan Toews: PD – +10 DZone Starts at EV – 20.7% Corsi For – 60.0%
Patrice Bergeron: PD – -4 DZone Starts at EV – 35.7% Corsi For – 60.7%
Ryan Kesler: PD – -2 DZone Starts at EV – 33.6% Corsi For – 52.5%
Pavel Datsyuk: PD – +8 DZone Starts at EV – 29.2% Corsi For – 55.4%
Couturier does not stand out in any one category. By the same token, he is not blown away by the competition. His “Corsi For” is the least of all of the players listed, but his defensive zone starts are second by only 0.1% to Patrice Bergeron. He draws more penalties than he takes and creates shots for his team. He starts more than a third of his shifts in the defensive zone (and only 25.7% of his shifts start in the offensive zone) and the Flyers still attempt more shots than their opponents while he is on the ice.
Should Sean Couturier be a Selke trophy nominee this season? In my opinion, it may be a little bit too soon, but I do think his name should be in the conversation. Toews, Bergeron, and Datsyuk are all continuing to play at an extremely high level, which may force Couturier to wait a few years before receiving a nomination. However, even if Couturier does not get a Selke trophy nomination this season, there is plenty of hope. Pavel Datsyuk did not win his first Selke trophy until he was 29 years old and he has won it three times. Bergeron and Kesler were both 26 when they won the award for the first time. Jonathan Toews, who will be a perennial Selke nominee for the next decade, won the award for the first time as a 25 year old. Couturier is still only 21 years old. Jordan Staal was nominated as a 21 year old and Toews was first nominated when he was 23. Couturier has plenty of time to continue refining his game at both ends of the ice. The fact that he is within striking distance of these seasoned veterans should bring Flyers fans hope and joy this holiday season.