Kevin Hayes did not forget the list.
Now that he has seen Sean Couturier up close on a day-to-day basis, the list makes him shake his head.
Last summer, the NHL Network published a ranking of top-20 centers in the league. Couturier, who was coming off a second straight 76-point, 30-plus-goal season, did not make the cut.
With time, the Flyers' 200-foot force down the middle has started to gain more league-wide notoriety. For some reason, he didn't get it from the NHL Network last August. This August, he'll enter the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament as one of three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, an honor given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
It made Hayes think of that list.
"I remember at the beginning of the season, someone asked me how he wasn’t in the top-20 centers in the league I think," Hayes said Tuesday. "Whoever made those choices needs to figure it out. This guy’s unbelievable, he’s one of the best players I’ve played with. You see him after games, he’s barely sweating. He just knows the game — he knows where to be, he knows how to play, he knows how to defend. That’s what you want in your first-line center; he’s elite. He got recognized for it once and I think this year, he should run away with it."
As Hayes mentioned, Couturier was a finalist for the 2017-18 Selke Trophy and finished second. This year could be the 27-year-old center's best shot yet at the honor.
A center like Hayes, who uses a strong frame, strategic long reach and tough-to-play-against style himself, has enjoyed being on Couturier's side in 2019-20. Hayes played against Couturier from 2014 to 2019 when he spent parts of five seasons with the Rangers.
Couturier (6-3/211) and Hayes (6-5/216), the Flyers' one-two punch down the middle, are no cakewalk for the opposition.
"He really puts time into his craft and he’s all in when he’s at the rink," Hayes said of Couturier. "Him and [Matt Niskanen], I never played with those guys before this year and sit back and you don’t realize how good they are until they're actually your teammates. He’s an elite player and you realize how good he is when you see him at the rink every day and you see how he goes about his life.
"He’s up for [the Selke] for a reason and I think he deserves to win it this year. He had a great year, he’s had great years his whole career."
Couturier came into the league as a 19-year-old regarded for his defensive strengths. After not cracking 40 points in any of his first six seasons, Couturier has worked his way into one of the NHL's premier multifaceted pivots.
Since 2017-18, Sean Couturier has 166 even-strength points.— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 22, 2020
Only 3 NHL centers have more over that span:
1. Connor McDavid — 219
2. Leon Draisaitl — 194
3. Nathan MacKinnon — 188
(📷 by Flyers PR guru Zack Hill) pic.twitter.com/SkquC5q6Bm
Sean Couturier among NHL centers since 2017-18:— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) June 10, 2020
4th in even strength points (166)
5th in +/- (plus-57)
6th in TOI per game (21:15)
Tied for 6th in faceoff % (56.5)
7th in shorthanded minutes (480:33)
16th in goals (86)
16th in assists (125)
(📷 by Flyers PR guru Zack Hill) pic.twitter.com/zYWYxtts0r
Assistant coach Ian Laperriere has been on the Flyers' staff since 2012 and in the organization since 2009. He has watched Couturier blossom.
He’s got the quality of he’s committed to the game," Laperriere said. "You see that in the Crosbys of this world, the McDavids of this world, every summer, every training camp they come back better because they did work over the summer. Coots has got that quality in him. He could have ridden the wave of being a good defensive player when he came in as a 19-year-old, could have had a pretty good career, but he wasn’t satisfied. That's what a guy who’s passionate about the game and committed to the game, they're never satisfied. He worked on the other aspects of his game and that’s why he’s the player he is today and that's why he’s nominated for a Selke.
"I hate to use that word 'perfect player,' but he’s the closest thing that you’ll find. There’s no cheat in his game. What’s great about Coots, he’s a great example for the young guys like [Morgan] Frost and [Joel] Farabee, just to look at him and see what he does on and off the ice. He’s one of our leaders for a reason.
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