Sean Couturier is no longer surprising people or having to win them over.
When you think of the top defensive forwards in hockey, his name now comes right to mind of those across the league.
“Sean Couturier is one of the best two-way centers I’ve seen in this game," Alain Vigneault, who has coached 17 years in the NHL, said Feb. 1.
It took time for the 27-year-old to build his do-it-all brand and have it recognized. Couturier, who came into the league at 19 years old, could be staring at his best shot yet for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, an honor given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
On Monday, the Flyers' alpha dog down the middle was named a finalist for the award, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Couturier is up against the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron and the Blues' Ryan O’Reilly, while the winner is expected to be announced during the Conference Final series, which are slated to begin Sept. 8. If Couturier wins, he'll become the third Flyer to ever take home the honor, joining Bob Clarke (1982-83) and Dave Poulin (1986-87).
"Attention to details, trying to do the right things all the time, being on the right side of the puck, being reliable in all aspects of the game — I try to take pride in that," Couturier said Monday to Flyers senior director of communications Zack Hill. "It's nice to be honored and recognized by the media. Hopefully I can keep doing this for years and have the same reputation year after year."
Among NHL centers during the 2019-20 season, Couturier ranked first in faceoff win percentage (59.6 — minimum of 100 taken), tied for fifth in plus-minus (plus-21) and secondary assists (22), 13th in even-strength points (46), 15th in shots (185), 17th in time on ice per game (19:50), tied for 18th in assists (37), tied for 22nd in goals (22) and tied for 30th in shorthanded minutes (140:29), all while constantly drawing the opposition's toughest assignment (see story).
Interestingly, for Couturier to win his first Selke Trophy this year (he was the 2017-18 runner-up), he'll have to dethrone a guy he has looked up to and respected in the 200-foot, nothing-comes-easy-against-me department: Mr. Bergeron. The Bruins' soon-to-be 35-year-old center has won the award four times. During Couturier's rookie season, Bergeron was 26 and won his first Selke.
"He’s definitely a great role model for any young player or any young guys trying to learn the game, to play the right way," Couturier said last week. "He does all the little things right, barely makes any mistakes, plays the right way and he’s responsible. He’s definitely a player that any young guy can look up to and learn from — it was no different for me coming into the league. He was already established and a solid player, so I definitely looked up to guys like him, [Anze] Kopitar, [Jonathan] Toews, Jordan Staal. Those guys are really reliable and play the game the right way. It’s definitely an honor just to be mentioned in the same conversation as those guys."
Let's take a look at Couturier's chances:
Working in Couturier's favor
In the PHWA's midseason awards released Jan. 23, Couturier was the leading vote-getter for the Selke Trophy among the 117 writers who filled out ballots, followed by Bergeron and O’Reilly (see story). To lead the group was certainly proof that Couturier has everyone's attention. And he did nothing to hurt his chances down the stretch, delivering 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and a plus-6 rating over the Flyers' final 19 games since Jan. 23 as his team went on to finish with the NHL's sixth-most points (89). He factored into everything for arguably the NHL's most improved club (see story).
Not working in Couturier's favor
Bergeron is the gold standard, being named a Selke Trophy finalist for a record ninth straight season. He had another really good year (31 goals, 25 assists, plus-23 rating) for the NHL's best team that allowed a league-low 2.39 goals per game. Couturier now has a reputation, but Bergeron added to his just as well in 2019-20. O’Reilly's season was nothing to scoff at, either, as the reigning winner led the finalists with 61 points (albeit in two more games than Couturier and 10 more than Bergeron) while winning an NHL-most 880 faceoffs.
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