Over the past few years, the names Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier have frequently been said in the same breath. Whether it is discussing trade bait, the teams bright future, or the Flyers logjam at center, Schenn and Couturier have been compared and debated incessantly.
This past year, Schenn was a mainstay on the Flyers second line (both at center and left wing) while Couturier played more of a shut down role on the teams third line. Schenn saw time on the second power play unit while Couturier was the teams top penalty killing forward. One of the two young centers will likely be the teams second line center next season.
As nice it is that the Flyers have been great at special teams over the past couple of years, championships are won at even strength. Therefore, when looking at who should be the second line center next year, even strength production must be the prime indicator.
Let’s evaluate Schenn and Couturier in this light:
Here is a chart detailing their 2013-2014 regular season ice time. All numbers courtesy of NHL.com.
Ultimately, although Couturier’s line was not a scoring line, he was on the ice at even strength more than Schenn by about a minute per game. This has to do with the fact that Couturier was routinely paired against the opponents top line, and every teams top line eats up a lot of even strength ice time.
Their special teams TOI numbers are polar opposites. Schenn spent quite a bit of time on the PP, while Couturier spent a ton of time on the PK. Couturier did get some time on the second PP unit, but significantly less than Schenn.
So now we are left wondering how they produced in each situation. Take a look at this chart detailing their production in all three scenarios during the 2013-2014 season:
|Brayden Schenn||32 (16-16)||9 (4-5)||0 (0-0)||41 (20-21)|
|Sean Couturier||31 (12-19)||3 (0-3)||5 (1-4)||39 (13-26)|
Key: 50 (24-26) = 50 points, 24 goals, 26 assists
Their production at ES is surprisingly close. Even though Couturier gets slightly more ES ice time, I expected Schenn’s placement on a “scoring line” to bump up his production.
Schenn seems to outperform Couturier on the power play, while Couturier is still a beast on the penalty kill. However, we must put their production and ice time together to really see how they are producing.
Here is a chart with their points per 60 minutes TOI at each scenario, along with two other measures of player usage, quality of teammates and zone start percentage. The final two columns are courtesy of ExtraSkater.com.
Quality of Comp. %
Zone Start %
Note: Both quality of competition and zone starts are even strength statistics. They do not include PP/PK time. Also, zone start percentage is NOT simply the percentage of shifts a player started in the offensive zone, as some will say. It is measured by dividing the number of offensive zone starts by the total number of offensive and defensive zone starts [i.e. OZstarts/(OZstarts+DZstarts)]. Therefore, it does not include neutral zone starts.
So what do we make of these numbers?
Well, Schenn produced at a higher rate than Couturier. That much is undeniable.
However, when looking at the usage of each player it is easy to make a case that Couturier is just as offensively talented, or more so, than Schenn. It is east to look at these numbers and believe that Couturier could produce far more than Schenn if he had more favorable zone starts and was not so worn down by his 3:25 per game of short handed play.
Ultimately, Couturier is one of the top penalty killing forwards in the NHL. So no matter what the Flyers do at even strength, Couturier will always be a penalty killing cornerstone. The fact remains that Schenn out-produced Couturier at both even strength and on the power play.
So who do you think should be the Flyers second line center next season?
Personally, I favor Couturier by a hair. If given more offensive opportunities (i.e. better zone starts and more PP time) Couturier will see his even strength production surpass that of Schenn. However, a case can be made either way.
As always, I would love to hear what you think. Feel free to give me your thoughts in either the comments section or via twitter (@dcquackenbos).