Sean Couturier: 2011 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile

In this photo, Sean Couturier beat a defender and put a shot on net that has to be stopped in the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Normally, the saying is "you only have one chance to make a good first impression."  I wonder if there is a similar saying for those who are around so long that more intense criticism comes from extended exposure?  Prospects who were highly touted at the beginning of the season get early attention due to their high ranking, but opinion can suffer for varying reasons.  Maybe someone picked up on something "off" they didn't notice in the past. Maybe some other prospects "upped" their game more dramatically than the highly touted prospect.  Maybe the guy was #1 for so long that it wasn't to last throughout the season short of spitting diamonds. 

The above certainly applies to today's prospect profile subject, center Sean Couturier.  He was the top guy for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft heading into the 2010-11 season.  Somewhere along the way, views on him changed as it did with the rest of the draft class.  He's no longer the consensus top skater in the draft, but his fall wasn't too great. He'll definitely be a high pick in this coming draft, and perhaps New Jersey's.  Therefore, it's a name that Devils fans should be familiar with by June 24.

By the time you read this, or perhaps a little later, you may find that Sean Couturier was the In Lou We Trust pick in the SBN NHL Mock Draft.  Edmonton went first with Adam Larsson, Colorado jumped on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Florida took Gabriel Landeskog.  This left New Jersey with a few options, and we agreed on the big center out of the QMJHL.    In addition to profiling the player, I'll explain why we went with him over other available players.

Who is Sean Couturier?

Sean Couturier is a center from the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.  According to his prospect page at NHL.com, his official height is listed at 6'4" and his official weight is 192 pounds.  He's a big prospect. He's also an older prospect, with a birth date of December 7, 1992.  Therefore, a big chunk of his recent season was played at age 18.  Also: he has been a scoring machine for Drummondville.  Just check out his stats at Eliteprospects:

Couturier is also an accomplished prospect.  Between the NHL.com prospect page and Eliteprospects' profile, here's a summary. When he first joined up with Drummondville in 08-09, he was a part of their President's Cup winning team. Couturier broke out in his second season in the Q, leading the league scoring in 2009-10 and was named to their Second All-Star team.  In 2010-11, he played 10 fewer games and put up the same number of points; he was the only undrafted player on the Canadian World Junior team which won silver; and was named the QMJHL MVP, the QMJHL Best Professional Prospect, and a member of the league's First All-Star team.

Lastly, as referenced prior to the jump, Couturier's draft stock has fallen in some scouts' eyes regardless of his accomplishments.  Central Scouting Services had him second on their list of North American skaters in their midterm rankings, and he was dropped to sixth in their final rankings.  Why has opinion soured some Couturier?  Let's find out by checking out what others have said about Couturier.

What Experts Have Said About Couturier

Since Couturier has been one of the highly touted prospects all season long, there's quite a bit on him.  So if I miss an opinion here or there, feel free to bring it up in the comments for further discussion.  Let's get started with the two profiles from the previous section.  Here's a very short summary on Couturier from Eliteprospects that sums up what makes him so enticing as a prospect.

A large center with a lot of power and strength. Utilizes his size very well. A strong skater with good speed. A hard shooter. Works hard in front of the opposite goal. Has great hands. (Matias Strozyk)

Size, strength, hard work, and offensive skills.  What's not to like?  The two quotes from Central Scouting Services at the NHL.com prospect page for Couturier are similar in it's general praise.

NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau
"At his size, he'll be hard to pass up in the draft. He possesses a very good work ethic and he's out there for every important faceoff. He's very responsible in the defensive aspect of the game -- a rare quality for such a young player in junior hockey."

NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards
"Sean has excellent puckhandling and playmaking ability; he sees the ice and reads the play very well . . . He's extremely smart and gets himself into good scoring position. He plays a solid two-way game and is very responsible defensively."

Offensive skills with production to match and defensive responsibility?  Sign me up!  Why is this guy ranked sixth by CSS anyway?  Well, this Mike Morreale article at NHL.com has an explanation of sorts from Chris Bordeleau of CSS:

"Sean Couturier is a good hockey player, but there were players who got better," Chris Bordeleau, Central Scouting's chief QMJHL scout, told NHL.com. "This was Sean's third year in the league and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins is such a great, skilled player, so there's nothing you can do about that. Right now as a group (at Central Scouting), we all feel Gabriel Landeskog will probably play in the NHL next year -- he's ready. We have Nathan Beaulieu and Jonathan Huberdeau, who have both taken giant steps and improved immensely. Huberdeau has NHL hands right now.

Dougie Hamilton has really shown what he's capable of doing. Thing is, yes, Couturier is sixth, but that doesn't mean the sixth guy couldn't go first or the first guy go sixth. We're just projecting that these guys will play in the NHL, so the first one could be as good as the sixth."

Forgive me for reading in between the lines, but this seems to suggest that CSS wasn't wowed by Couturier this season as much as other prospects have impressed them.  Therefore, they ranked such players (Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Beaulieu, Huberdeau, Hamilton) ahead of him.   I can't say I agree with that, but I'll get into my opinion later.   I do recommend reading the rest of the article, as it outlines some of Couturier's strengths like his faceoffs, his vision, and his strength on the puck.

Other scouting services probably had a similar thought process.  Kirk Luedeke pointed out the change in Red Line Report's rankings, which had Couturier first in August 2010 but slotted him eighth in April 2011.   (For what it's worth, Kyle Woodlief's latest column at USA Today reveals that RLR feels that Couturier is the fifth best forward in the draft. Yes, even behind Ryan Strome.) International Scouting Services has been more stoic.  Per their top 30 lists at Hockey's Future, Couturier was #1 from October to December 2010 and then has bounced between third and fourth in subsequent months.  In summary, Couturier was the top guy but now that the draft is nigh, he's slipped for other factors.

Enough about scouting service rankings, though, let's get back to what others have said about Couturier, the player.  Scott Campbell and The Scouting Report ranked him fourth overall in their top 100 prospect list with the following opinion:

Couturier has progressively slid from his pre-season perch but we still feel that he is certainly deserving of a place in the Top 5. After struggling to take his offensive production to the "next level", there are some concerns about his potential as a first line center. While he isn’t going to be a dominant offensive player, Couturier is a very capable offensive forward who has the size to create space for himself at the next level as well. He will need to work on his skating a bit to solidify himself as a two-way center with the increased pace of the NHL, but Couturier is a pretty safe pick who has likely been the victim of over-exposure this year.

In a nutshell, one can see the causes for his stock to fall.  The notion that he didn't take his production to the next level; his skating needing some work; and - in my opinion the most important cause - over-exposure.  That all said, neither of those points are "game-changers" to the Scouting Report.  He's still their top QMJHL prospect and they appreciate his offensive nature and his size with that.  Curiously, they note that he could be a two-way center - though that could be a floor projection as opposed to a ceiling.

Christoper Ralph of The Hockey Writers has an extensive report on Couturier, labeling him as a "ten-tool prospect." As great as that is to read, it's not all praise and nothing else.  Ralph cites a few quotes where the source doesn't think Couturier will turn out to be more than a solid second or third line center.  He also notes that his rate of production dropped after the World Junior Championships and that he had a poor Top Prospects game.  But they may be really quibbles more than anything else.  Here's the bottom line of what Ralph thinks of Couturier.  

Risk-Reward Analysis:

Risk = 0-0.5/5   Reward = 4.5/5

NHL Potential:

Great sized number one centreman who is responsible defensively; at the very least, Couturier should morph into a high end number 2 or 3 centre who can play effectively in all three zones.

This falls in line with Campbell's assertion that he's a "safe" pick. He'll turn out to be a NHL player; it's just not guaranteed that he'll become a first-line caliber center.  I can understand that reasoning.  There's very few guarantees with prospects anyway.  

What is a guarantee is that Kirk Luedeke will have solid, reasoned opinions about a prospect at Bruins 2011 Draft Watch.   Like with most of the "big name" prospects, Luedeke has a lot written about Couturier that's worth perusing when you have the time.  I'll keep it brief and reference his summary of the player just after the CSS final rankings came out:

Sean Couturier fell down to No. 6 on the list, which is consistent with some of the buzz we've been hearing on him. However, it's hard to imagine he'll fall very far come draft day. He's simply too big, talented and promising to take a major nosedive as other highly-touted prospects have done in the past. He's not the best skater, but let's be frank: it's not a major flaw and is correctable with some work on mechanics. He has the size and power to be a legitimate power forward and top-six player for years in this league, and we don't put a lot of stock in his WJC performance because of the role he was given. Yes, he could have produced more because the opportunities were there for him, and that was noted back in January when we published our notes. But at the same time, the fact that he generated those scoring chances counts as well. He battled mononucleosis which has a debilitating effect on any athlete, so in our view Couturier is not going to have the kind of fall the rumor mongers will predict for him. If he gets out of the top-five, then whoever snags him shortly thereafter is getting some nice value.

With respect to the skating issues mentioned, Luedeke went into a lot (and I mean, a lot) more detail about it when Tom interviewed him back in mid-May.  As with anything involving Luedeke (and his site), it's worth reading.

Speaking of scouts, here's a quick take from Oilers head of scouting Stu MacGregor at OilersNation in this post by Robin Brownlee:

Scouting Report: "He's got great vision, hockey sense and puck control. He's real big and strong and he'll get more powerful as he develops physically."

Projection: "I think he could be a first-line centre."

Best Case Scenario: "A good first-line centre."

Concerns: "He has to get quicker, speed-wise."

Again: Strength, size, vision, sense, puck control, and all he needs is some speed.  MacGregor isn't as pessimistic as other opinions, since he flatly states he could be a first-line center.  It's indicative of the divide in opinions over Couturier, and it could very well be another reason why some have him falling and some have not.

Lastly, Corey Pronman at Hockey Prospectus recently revealed his top five prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry draft and he ranked Couturier at second.   His ranking isn't so much worth your attention as much as Pronman's detailed opinion on Couturier and an explanation of the high ranking.  Here's a snippet that caught my eye:

At 6'4" and still growing into his body, Couturier has the physical projection to be well above-average to plus at the NHL level which when combined with his skill set makes you understand his desirable potential. The only thing that will hold Couturier back is his skating tool, because as it stands now it grades as fringe to below-average. Mind you, Sean has made strides to improve in that area and it's far ahead of where it was 1-2 years ago, but it's still not at pro-level. When he gets going in full stride he can approach fringe-average level and with how the stride looks mechanics-wise now there is chance for improvement if he continues to put development work in that area.

This is an important point. While his skating isn't as excellent as his other skills, Pronman says it has improved in past seasons.  That's further reason to believe that it can get better along with the actual basis for the knocks on his skating.  It serves to reason that as far as criticisms go, it's not an awful one.

A Little Video

The above section contains a lot of words that mostly agree that Couturier has the size, offensive skillset, and defensive mind to put up points and play well in his own end.  How about a little video so we can see some of that?  This compilation of highlights by NHL Draft Video has it all: hits, assists, goals, and even a takeaway.

An Opinion of Sorts & An Explanation as to Why We Picked Him at #4 in the SBN Mock Draft

Way back in April, near the end of the NHL season, Derek Zona of the Copper & Blue wrote this well-researched and well-reasoned post that made a case for Couturier to be the first overall pick in 2011 (and pointed out that he's plenty physical too).  Of course, when Copper & Blue made their pick in the mock draft, they went with Adam Larsson.  I can't fault them for that; the only prospect I prefer over Couturier is Adam Larsson, namely because Larsson is impressive against professional players.

But I bring up Zona's post because it further demonstrates what Couturier has in addition to the praise about his size, defensive skills, and offensive tools: evidence.   Evidence that he's good on draws. Evidence that he is involved in creating scoring chances. Evidence that he gets and takes a significant number of shots. Evidence that his production is superior.  (Aside: Tom wrote this post comparing Couturier's points to Huberdeau's points that shows another point in Couturier's favor.)

Above all, what makes him stick out in my opinion is that he's been productive for two seasons now. My main concerns regarding Ryan Strome and Jonathan Huberdeau have to do with the fact that they broke out in this past season in a big way.  While excellent, who knows whether they can match it.  I don't have that same concern for Couturier because he backed up his 2009-10 season with an equally strong 2010-11.

I have no idea what those scouts and other experts who know Couturier for not having an impressive in 2010-11 were honestly expecting.  Couturier put up 96 points in 10 fewer games, represented Canada at the WJCs as the only undrafted player on their roster, and won the QMJHL MVP. I don't know about you, but I think that's a rather good 18-year old season.  Don't take my word for it, take it from the league he plays in.  Whether it projects out to be dominating is another question, but I'm not worried.  I don't think any prospect in this draft class can be described as dominating; there is no "once in a generation" player available.  Therefore, I don't worry over whether Couturier can be dominant or not.  I do wonder what's up with the divide in opinion in being a first-line center or a second-line center; but I also wonder what that even means.  Wouldn't that depend more on what team he's on and how he actually develops in the first few seasons in his career?

I'm also not really worried about his skating. The details on his skating from Luedeke and Pronman allay any worries about that in my opinion. I look at it as something that can be fixed and will be addressed like any other issues that top prospects may have as they get older.   If he shows improvement in 2011-12, then it's even less than a worry in my opinion.  

There's a lot to love about Couturier as a player and prospects like him don't come around often unless you're picking high regularly in the draft.  The main goal for the New Jersey Devils in this draft is to select an excellent talent they normally don't have access to.  Couturier fits that bill to a "T." He's not just an offensive dynamo, he has a big body, he uses that body well, and he plays defense. Defense on top of offense!  He's used in all situations in Drummondville and he's proven that his production is no mere fluke.  This combination is simply tantalizing and far too much to pass up because he might not be an all-world #1 center or that his skating isn't as good as his hands, vision, or awareness.   It's because of this combination of what experts have seen along with the numbers that we selected him at #4 in the SBN mock draft.

If Couturier is available at #4, the New Jersey Devils should select him for the same reasons.

Your Take

Now that you've read all of this on Couturier, I want to know your opinion on the player.  What do you like the most about him? What don't you like about him?  Do you want the Devils to draft him at fourth overall? Or do you want someone else? Why?  Most of all, did you see Couturier play or know of any other reports from those who have? Please leave all your answers and other thoughts about Sean Couturier in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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