I am not saying he deserves to win it. I am just saying he won’t even be an honorable mention. And that’s not right.
Couturier won’t get looked at because offense is king, and his offense isn’t there on paper. He’s currently 10th in rookie scoring but, as in all things, context matters. Because he’s a fourth liner he has the lowest time on ice of all the scorers above him except Cory Hodgson of the Canucks and Sabres. His 12 goals are 9th among rookies, but more importantly he only has 13 assists, because he’s centered the flotsam and jetsam of the Flyers roster: Jody Shelley, Harry Zolniercyzk, Tom Sestito, Zac Rinaldo the departed Andreas Nodl and Max Talbot, who at 29 points is having a career year. Getting any assists with that group is a tall task. Give him just one more assist a month and Couturier has a respectable 31 points, although that only moves him up one spot in total points, it moves him 5 spots up in assists. He’s also got a very respectable shooting percentage at 11.8%, 6th best among rookies.
The offense an individual player can produce is there, the offense a player has to rely in part on linemates isn’t and for good reason. But offense isn’t why Couturier has been such an impressive rookie. Not that it matters, because voters don’t care about that. In their eyes defense doesn’t matter unless you have offense. A Selke winner hasn’t scored fewer than 20 goals since 1991-92 (not counting Ron Francis’s 11 goals in the strike shortened season), 5 of the past 10 winners scored 30+ goals and 6 of them have had 70+ points. Kris Draper scores 24 goals and bang, he’s a Selke winner. Nothing really changed about his defensive play, he just shot the puck better. But that “G” column looks good, so he was suddenly deserving. Ridiculous. Brit Selby in 1965-66 was the last Calder winner who played forward to score less than 40 points. Since 1997-98, 8 forwards have won the Calder, Chris Drury is the only one to not lead rookies in points. Offense is king.
What makes Couturier one of the better rookies in the league is that he’s already a very reliable and valuable defensive player. How often does that happen with 18 year olds? Among forwards, Couturier is 10th in the league–not just rookies–in shorthanded time on ice a game at 2:43. 10th! That leads all rookies. Fellow Flyers rookie Matt Read, impressive in his own right, is 2nd with 2:36. Third is the Senators’ Kaspars Daugavins with 1:59. That’s a significant drop off. Couturier is one of only two rookies, along with the Devils’ Adam Henrique, to have taken enough faceoffs to qualify. His 47% isn’t great, but it’s hard for a rookie to pass the 50% threshold, so it’s not a worrisome number at this point. Three of the top 10 players he is on ice against are John Tavares (#1), Evgeni Malkin (#5) and Ilya Kovalchuk (#8). The three most dangerous players in the division, and he’s the one out there against them. Nugent-Hopkins’ top forward against is Radim Vrbata. Landeskog’s is Dany Heatley, he also goes up against Taylor Hall and Jonathan Toews a lot. Credit to him. No Flyers forward starts more of his shifts in the neutral or defensive zone than Couturier does. That’s trust by the coaching staff. Flyers goalies stop more shots when he’s on the ice than when any other forward is on (Eric Wellwood has a higher number, but he hasn’t played enough).
The voters will give the Calder to Landeskog, one of top players on a surprising team, and he’s deserving of it. Or to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as he lifts his team to yet another top 3 pick. And Matt Read is making Bob McKenzie’s Calder prediction no longer funny. Couturier doesn’t deserve the Calder over these players. But he’s absolutely worthy of being mentioned as a top rookie. The Flyers entered the season with no one at center you can count on to run a PK. That was a massive hole in the roster, and to fill it they turned to their Steve Winwood baby-faced 18 year old. All he’s done is exceed expectations and become a key cog on the team 5th in the league in points. That’s impressive.
He’s not the best rookie this year. But he’s one of them and deserves recognition of it that he won’t get.
Another reason to love this kid: he’s totally fine with it: