NHL on NBCSN: Sean Couturier among NHL’s elite centers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It took him some time, but Sean Couturier has developed into one of the elite centers in the NHL. Not only is the 27-year-old on pace to surpass the 70-point mark for the third year in a row, he also continues to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Flyers when it comes to matching up against the opponent’s best lines.

Couturier began playing in the NHL as an 18-year-old back in 2011-12. In first full season, he put up a respectable 13 goals and 27 points in 77 games. He followed that up with seasons of 15 points (in 46 games), 39, 37, 39 and then 34. In 2017-18, something clicked and he started taking his play to another level.

Heading into this year, he put up back-to-back 76-point seasons and he’s on his way to posting similar numbers this year. Couturier currently leads the Flyers in scoring with 46 points in 52 games. His advanced numbers are just as impressive as his offensive totals lately.

He has a CF% of 55.52 percent, a GF% of 63.64 percent and an XGF% of 54.94 percent. He’s done all that while starting 54 percent of his shifts in the neutral zone or defensive zone. (All stats via Natural Stat Trick)

The fact that he can post these kind of numbers while matching up against every team’s top line is pretty remarkable.

When the Pro Hockey Writers Association held their mid-season award winners last month, Couturier was at the top of the Selke Trophy list. He’s never won the award, but it seems like people are finally starting to realize that he’s turned into an elite two-way player.

“He’s grown into a real solid two-way centerman,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said back in December, per NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I don’t want to say ‘(Patrice) Bergeron type,’ I think Bergeron is obviously the role model in the league, but I think Coots is closing in on how good Bergeron is.

“I think because he might not be as flashy or look as spectacular as some of the other guys, maybe people don’t notice him as much. But I can tell you, the people in this room, the people that play with him every day, they notice him.”

Heading into tonight’s clash against the Red Wings, the Flyers are tied for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently on the outside-looking-in of the playoff picture because the Carolina Hurricanes have more regulation wins. If Philadelphia is going to secure a playoff berth, they’ll need their stars to perform at a high level and they’ll need their goaltending to hold up.

One person they won’t have to worry about is Couturier. He’s turned into Mr. Consistent for his team and he’s going all the big and little things it takes to win. There’s a lot of star forwards in the NHL that are hoping to avoid Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs so that they don’t have to create offense against one of the top two-way players in the game.

John Forslund and AJ Mleczko will call the action from Detroit. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage alongside Patrick Sharp and Mike Johnson.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.