Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Two of the main pieces in the Carter/Richards deals. Tons of hype and an extreme amount of potential. But, ever since the Shea Weber offer sheet, and rumors of a subsequent “Gratton agreement”, debate has raged among Flyers fans as to whether or not one of either Schenn or Couturier should be traded. Over the last two seasons there have been a plethora of moments in which each player has had his name brought up in trade rumors. Despite the fact that Paul Holmgren seems to view them as ‘untouchable’, Flyers fans have called for their heads time and time again. This season, however, they are making Holmgren look smart. Both players are having good seasons and have become key cogs in the Philadelphia Flyers winning line up.
Both Schenn and Couturier were rookies in 2011-2012. Schenn played in 54 games after suffering an injury early in the season, while Couturier played in 77 games after making the team as an 18 year old. Both players were top prospects in their respective draft year. Schenn was drafted 5th overall in 2009 after the likes of John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, and Evander Kane. Couturier was the 8th overall pick in 2011. He was originally ranked in the top 5,and by the time the draft came around many people had him falling to 6th overall. On draft day he fell to 8th overall, where the Flyers sat having acquiring the Blue Jackets first round pick.
Each player has a different style, but they are both highly talented centers. Couturier is known for his defensive awareness and shut-down ability, while Schenn is known for his physical presence and offensive touch. Throughout their two and half seasons with the Flyers, each player has shown flashes of his potential, but also experienced growing pains. Couturier is yet to break out offensively (although his defensive game is as good as advertised) and Schenn has been shuffled throughout the line up. These growing pains have caused many fans (in Schenn’s case, myself included) to grow impatient and call for them to be traded. The glaring need for a top-notch help on defense has also been in a factor in the desire to part ways with the two budding stars.
This season, both Schenn and Couturier have rewarded the patience of the Flyers and look to be on their way to break out seasons.
Through 44 games Schenn has a career high in points (11G, 16A, 28P). He is one goal shy of his career high of 12 and one assist shy of his career high of 17. Schenn is now 22 years old and beginning to show signs of taking the next step. He has seven points in his last five games (3G, 4A) and is finding consistency. There are a few reasons why he has started to come alive this season.
First, he finally has consistent linemates. Almost from day one in a Flyers uniform, Schenn has been with Wayne Simmonds. However, he spent much of last season and the start of this season shifting between left wing and center. He has been linemates with everyone from Daniel Briere to Matt Read to Vincent Lecavalier. Right now, he is centering the 2nd line with Simmonds on his right and Scott Hartnell on his left. On the surface, that line looks like a mess. Three players who all qualify as big power forwards? No thanks. However, both Schenn and Simmonds have under rated puck skills and playmaking ability. Schenn has been making good passes to set up both Hartnell and Simmonds, along with doing his usual work along the boards. After a slow start, this line seems to have found chemistry.
Second, Schenn is playing center. Coming out of the juniors, Schenn was unquestionably a center. However, on a team that has had Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Daniel Briere, Max Talbot, and Sean Couturier, Schenn has often been the odd man out. After playing much of the season at left wing, and not doing a bad job there, Schenn moved to center when Lecavalier began suffering from back spasms. In the first 10 games being moved back to center, Schenn had a hard time adjusting, which may have had something to do with his new linemates. However, in the last eight games, Schenn has four goals and five assists, after having a only seven goals and 11 assists through the first 36 games.
Finally, Schenn is no longer a prospect, he is a bonafide NHL forward. Coming into this season, Brayden Schenn had played a total of 121 regular season and playoff NHL games. No player is a star in his first season and rarely does a player break out in his second season. As a 22 year old who has experienced the NHL for over 150 games now, Schenn is mature enough, both physically and mentally, to be a consistent NHL contributor.
Sean Couturier was a rookie sensation in 2011-2012. The 6’3″ center played an excellent two-way game, contributing 27 points (13G, 14A) and being +18. Couturier, through 44 games, already has more points this season (19) than he did through 46 games last season (15). Although his point totals do not jump off of the page, Couturier’s stellar play this year can be measured in other ways.
First, Couturier has seen an extreme surge in ice time this season. In his rookie season he averaged only 14:08 per game and last season he played only 15:53 per game. This season, he is averaging 19:29 per game. Couturier centers the Flyers shut down line, which means that his ice time roughly matches that of the opponents most skilled players. Couturier has been on the ice quite a bit and that has given him a lot of confidence. His increased ice time is also a sign that head coach Craig Berube is confident in the 21 year old center.
Second, Couturier is a penalty killing machine. In every year that he has been in the NHL, Couturier has averaged over a 2:30 of ice time on the penalty kill. According to ExtraSkater.com, Couturier is on the ice for 48.9% of the Flyer’s shorthanded minutes. Couturier’s 3:18 per game shorthanded is third on the team behind Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen. Couturier is the top forward of the 7th best penalty kill in the NHL.
Third, Couturier is getting more involved in the offense. It is difficult for Couturier to generate a lot of offense because he starts almost three-fourths (73.8%) of his shifts in the defensive or neutral zone (34.3% in the Dzone/39.4% Nzone). However, Couturier is still shooting more than he ever has in his career. His rookie season he averaged 1.5 shots per game and last season that number only increased to 1.63 shots per game. This season Couturier is shooting about 2.02 shots per game. His shooting percentage is 9%, up from 5.3% last season. He may never be a point per game player, but Couturier is taking strides to be a more offensively involved, two-way center.
Both Schenn and Couturier are rewarding their general manager for the patience that he has exercised with them. What is even more encouraging? The fact that neither player has reached his prime. It is not crazy to think that as they each reach the age of 25 or 26, they can ascend to an even higher level. For the rest of the Metropolitan Division, that is a scary thought. If the time comes, and it still might, in which one of these two players is traded, we can only hope that Homer demands a lot.