Why Sean Couturier will thrive on the Flyers’ third tine

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Six years ago, the Flyers selected Sean Couturier with the 8th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. After coming off of two straight years playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs and registering 96 points in two consecutive years, Coots entered the Flyers organization with some pretty lofty expectations. After six seasons in the orange and black, Sean hasn’t exactly lived up to what the Flyers’ brass thought he would be.

Yes, playing in the NHL is a little different than the QMJHL. Kids who put up those gaudy numbers in the QMJHL shouldn’t be expected to continue the trend in the NHL. What Coots ended up bringing to the table, though, was his stellar defensive play against other teams’ top units. He shut down players such as Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. Malkin was held to one point the entire series, and Couturier played a major part in keeping Malkin off the point sheet.

Couturier has never been more than a third line center, potentially second line winger. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you’re the number 8 pick in a draft and expected to be more than just that. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he has been a disappointment. That would be an absolute lie. He has his doubters. Who doesn’t? Plain and simple, he just hasn’t lived up to expectations.

His rookie year saw him post 13 goals and 14 assists in a limited role. Ok, pretty average, nothing too crazy. His second year saw him post four goals and 11 assists in 46 games, but also saw him contain two of the game’s top centers during their playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Right then and there, Philadelphia knew they had someone special. Coots’ nose for the defensive side of the game was uncanny. He just knew where to be and when to be there.

After that season came a slew of average, if that, seasons where he posted 39 points in 2013-14, 37 in 2014-15, 39 in 2015-16 and 34 this past season. The offensive numbers are nowhere near where they were in juniors.  Why is someone who played at almost a 2 point per game place in the QMJHL posting sub-40 point seasons six years into their professional career?

Most will point to the pressure of being the guy who is called upon to defend the opposing team’s top line. Couturier is constantly the guy who is asked to contain the other teams’ top lines on a night in and night out basis. Not to mention, he is constantly taking faceoffs in the defensive zone, and not exactly benefitting from the plethora of centers the Flyers always seem to have on their roster. Couturier hasn’t really been able to surpass Brayden Schenn, and sure hasn’t been able to surpass Claude Giroux on the top line, which leaves him stuck on the third line, and sometimes winging it on the second line.

Now that Schenn is a blue, and Nolan Patrick is a part of the orange and black, where does that leave Couturier? Well, it’ll probably equate to more of the same. Patrick will likely slot into the 2nd center role while Couturier stays on that third line, likely paired with Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula. However, this season is different. New cast members, new script. Sean Couturier is finally set to thrive on that third line, and finally set up to start producing more offensively, while still being the Selke-worthy forward the Flyers have come to know.

First off, many believe that this is the breakout year for Sean Couturier that we have all been waiting for. Many believe that after the success he had last year towards the end of the year will lead to more this coming year. The line of Coots, Brayden Schenn and Dale Weise thrived at the end of the season last year, and Coots was a main factor in why. He put up 17 points alone in the last 20 games of the year, accounting for half of his seasons output. Many believe that the same success he had in those games will carry over and he will continue to put up points at the same pace this coming year. Not to mention, now that Schenn is gone, there is a huge hole to fill on the top powerplay unit, and Couturier would be a prime candidate to fill that spot. If so, you can expect to see a boost in his numbers considering how lethal Schenn was last year, and how good the Flyers powerplay can be at times. The Flyers powerplay average was 19.49% last year, almost .4% better than the league average. They had 54 powerplay goals, beating the league average once again by 7 goals.

With that being said, there is plenty of opportunity for Coots to grow, especially offensively, and start contributing at the pace that was sought of him when he first came into the league. This seems like the perfect year for Coots to finally break out and start proving why he was the 8th pick in the 2011 draft. Many have been waiting for a breakout year for Coots, and those people may not have to wait any longer.

With the addition of Nolan Patrick, who is likely to slot in on the second line ahead of Sean Couturier, it takes a little pressure off of Couturier knowing that he is standing firm in the third line center position, and not being asked to jump into a second line situation just yet. Sure, he could slot in on the wing also, but those positions seem destined to be filled by Simmonds and potentially Swedish rookie Oskar Lindblom.

I’m not here to tell you that Coots will forever be a third line guy. The way Hakstol coaches, Coots will move around a bit. You’ll see him on the second line. Hell, you’ll see him on the wing on the first line every now and then also. However, Couturier is at his best when he is centering the third line, and not to mention, centering Valtteri Filppula and Jordan Weal. He will be in a position to play his game with no added pressure because Filppula is a very versatile forward who can take faceoffs as well, and Jordan Weal will be able to score from his side of the ice. Coots will not be asked to do any more than he is capable of doing, but that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t expect him to do more than he is capable.

What this all boils down to is being comfortable. Coots is comfortable on the third line, and really found his place next to Filppula last year. Those two combined with a young, motivated Jordan Weal is a combination for success, because they will always be looking to put up points, and will be more determined than the more established stars on the team. Expect big things this year from Sean Couturier, and expect even bigger things from the line he is on. He is going to make things happen, and is going to get back to having fun playing the game we all love to watch.

 

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

 

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