Let me first say this: right now, as you read this piece, Sean Couturier is one of the best defensive forwards in the National Hockey League, despite being all of 20 years old. Any criticism of him otherwise should be noted in light of t...
Let me first say this: right now, as you read this piece, Sean Couturier is one of the best defensive forwards in the National Hockey League, despite being all of 20 years old. Any criticism of him otherwise should be noted in light of this fact, because it's a fairly incredible one, and he could be scoring ten points a season and still be pretty valuable with his defensive talents.
But if you read this site on a semi-regular basis, you already know that fact, so this post isn't going to talk very much about Corsi or zone starts or all of that. The post linked in the previous paragraph posed the question of how much offensive potential Sean Couturier has, and that's a question that's on everyone's mind following this season.
I think some of the critiques lobbed his way this season are a bit harsh, and I still haven't seen anything written about him since roughly March that didn't have the phrase "sophomore slump" in it somewhere, which is annoying. But his offensive game wasn't where we wanted it to be this year, and that's near impossible to deny.
So let's talk a bit about the guy who's gone from "unanticipated surprise of the Jeff Carter trade" to "untouchable, even for Shea Weber" to "disappointing sophomore forward who can't score".
First of all, it's worth noting that Couturier's total point production really didn't fall off much at all from last year to this year. He went from a rookie year output of 0.35 points per game to 0.33 per game this year. There was a dropoff at even strength (1.81 P/60 last year to 1.14 this year), but improved performance on the PP (1.73 P/60 last year, 3.51 this year) helped close that gap.
Granted, it's fair to expect him to take a step forward in his 19/20-year old season, compared to his 18/19-year old one, so that can be seen as disappointing regardless. But it's not as though he was that much worse than last year.
When looking at surprising point totals (in either direction), we also try to consider shooting percentage, since -- as our own Eric T. recently pointed out -- year-to-year fluctuation there can frequently and drastically affect a player's scoring. You can pretty plainly see that those numbers trended in the wrong direction for Couturier this year. (percentages from behindthenet.ca)
5v5 Individual Shooting %
5v5 On-Ice Shooting %
5v4 On-Ice Shooting %
If his percentages had all matched what they were last year, we'd have seen a noticeable bump in his point totals -- the bump in his own shooting percentage is worth at another three goals or so on its own, and he'd pick up at least a couple of assists if his on-ice percentages were in line with those of previous years. So while his point totals were down, his luck was way, way down.
One thing that frustrated Flyers fans last year was the fact that Couturier spent far, far too much time saddled with linemates simply not up to his offensive skill level. As you probably know, that trend continued this year. Here are his most frequent icemates (among forwards), via stats.hockeyanalysis.com:
% of Couturier's time
Among his five most frequent linemates, only one of them -- Matt Read -- exhibited much in the way of offensive talent this year, maybe two if you also include Knuble. It's one thing to put the guy in a defensively-oriented position; it's another to essentially neuter an