Monday, September 8, 2014
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Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Will Sean Couturier emerge as a two-way threat?

Sean Couturier

Age: 20
Depth Chart: Third-line center
Contract: $1.375 million against cap in 2013-14, RFA in 2016.
2013 Frequent Linemates: Maxime Talbot (33.9% of ice time), Matt Read (31.8%)

2013 Stats

GP TOI per game Goals Assists Points
46 15:53 4 11 15
Corsi On Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC OZ Start % PDO
-4.24 2.1 0.952 32.1 960

The bad from 2013

Offensively, Couturier took a big step back in 2013, scoring just 15 points in his 46 games, and a lot of people soured on him as a result. Young, first round draft picks who scored 96 points a year in junior hockey should grow as offensive players year-to-year, not take steps back.

People are writing things like "the jury is still out" on Sean Couturier as a result, and he was even the subject of trade rumors last year and over the offseason as a result of his stifled offensive play. Even Peter Laviolette seemed disappointed at times in his offensive play, shunning him even further and playing him on the fourth line at times.

The good from 2013

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  • The scoring stagnation was for good reason. Couturier remains one of the best defensive forwards in hockey -- AT AGE 20 -- and quite simply, he didn't score much because he was in the defensive end of the ice half the time. He's taking on extremely hard defensive minutes, starting 60 percent of his shifts in zones other than the offensive zone, and he and frequent linemate Max Talbot faced by far the toughest competition of any Flyers forward.

    As Eric wrote last season, Couturier continues to establish himself as a truly elite defensive forward in the NHL, and he's only 20 years old. We want to see him score more, but as long as he's facing the opposition's best players in tough defensive situations, and as long as he's playing with linemates who aren't very good at scoring, he's not going to score much. And that's not necessarily the worst thing in the world, because there are plenty of other players to pick up the slack.

    What should we expect this season?

    We won't know for sure until camp ends, but it certainly looks like Couturier will be on a third-line with Matt Read and Dan Cleary this season. (Edit: Looks like Cleary won't be here after all.) That's only slight upgrade from playing mostly with Talbot and Read a year ago, and it still means that Couturier is going to be playing in a lot of defensive situations, but the hope is that his minutes aren't quite as tough as they have been in the past, opening him up to more offensive opportunities. He has the ability to be a very good two-way threat at the NHL level as long as he's in the position to do so.

    Best case...

    With a stronger fourth-line than usual and an ample number of penalty killers on the roster, Couturier's minutes both at even strength and otherwise get much easier. He finds chemistry on the third-line with Read and Cleary, and the three thrive as a strong two-way unit, shutting down the best players the opposition has to offer while evolving into a threat at the other end of the ice.

    When Coots does put the puck on net, he scores more than the paltry 5.3 percent he did last year, and by developing further into a two-way threat, he quells the trade rumors and disappointment that surrounded him for much of last year.

    Worst case...

    The Cleary-Couturier-Read line is tasked with all the hard minutes, and not only does that further stagnate Couturier's chances of becoming a two-way player -- further frustrating fans into thinking he's worthless -- it also wears on the unit over the course of a long season. They're less effective in their own end as a result, Couturier is given fourth-line minutes at times again, and the trade rumors return.

    Bottom line

    The worst case scenario here really does seem unlikely. The Flyers have a great balance on all four forward lines of offense and defense, and every one of their centers can play a two-way role. That should divvy up the tough minutes rather than place them all on the shoulders of Couturier's line, and that should also result in more scoring opportunities for him. His shooting percentage should improve, and it'll all lead to more pucks in the back of the net.

    Couturier's point total should find its way north this season, and we should expect the same kind of great defensive play he's shown us during his two NHL seasons thus far. Calling 2013-14 a breakout season for Couturier might be the right wording, but he should be in the position to drastically improve upon what many felt was a disappointing year last season.

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    This article originally appeared on SBNation.

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