Sean Couturier "...is not physical enough."

"I hear people say he didn't have a great world junior but he was playing behind Brayden Schenn and Ryan Johansen and there's no shame in playing behind two older guys who are top-five drafts," the scout said. "He's a big centre who's capable of putting up big numbers, who can be very creative with the puck, but he's also a strong player when he doesn't have the puck and is committed to playing defence. He obviously has to fill out and get stronger but who doesn't like a big two-way centre who can be a first- or second-line centre in the NHL?"

--TSN, quoting a scout who still has Couturier ranked first overall.

One of the main arguments against drafting Sean Couturier and dropping him out of the top four picks in the 2011 NHL Entry draft is his lack of physical play.  Because he doesn't use his size and build to hit opponents often, he's immediately referred to as "soft" and "lacking grit".  But how often do the top centers in the league hit people?  After the jump, we'll take a look.

Below is a list of the top 30 centers in the league who have played 40 or more games in 2010-2011.  The list was quickly agreed upon by the writers at The Copper & Blue as well as a few SB Nation writers and a couple of friends.  I lobbied for Frans Nielsen, alas, I was denied.

Center GP Hits H/G
Ryan Getzlaf 65 181 2.785
Jordan Staal 41 67 1.634
Ryan Kesler 81 123 1.519
Antoine Vermette 80 118 1.475
Forward Average

1.355
Mike Richards 79 100 1.266
Anze Kopitar 75 92 1.227
Mike Ribeiro 80 92 1.150
Center Average

1.067
Patrick Marleau 80 85 1.063
Steven Stamkos 80 84 1.050
Eric Staal 79 81 1.025
Patrick Sharp 72 73 1.014
Paul Stastny 74 74 1.000
Jonathan Toews 78 73 0.936
Pavel Datsyuk 54 50 0.926
Top 30 Average

0.921
Mikko Koivu 69 63 0.913
Nicklas Backstrom 76 67 0.882
Joe Pavelski 72 57 0.792
Jeff Carter 78 59 0.756
Sidney Crosby 41 31 0.756
Evgeni Malkin 43 32 0.744
Joe Thornton 78 54 0.692
Travis Zajac 80 55 0.688
Tomas Plekanec 76 52 0.684
Stephen Weiss 75 50 0.667
Patrice Bergeron 79 44 0.557
Mikhail Grabovski 80 43 0.538
Henrik Zetterberg 80 38 0.475
Brad Richards 70 20 0.286
Jason Spezza 61 14 0.230
Henrik Sedin 81 15 0.185

 

The average hits/gm of those top 30 centers are highlighted in blue above - .921.  I totaled all forwards in the league who have played 40+ games and their average hits per game is 1.355.  I did the same for centers and the league-wide average is 1.067.

Top centers, both big and small, hit less often than an average center in the NHL.  I could take the time to study ice-time and deliver hits per minute on ice, but a quick glance shows 19 centers on this list among the top 30 centers in ice time. 

Holding Sean Couturier to some mythical physical play standard is asinine, especially when his future peer group does not meet that standard.  Couturier dominates the ice through sheer power and size and is able to play a creative game down low through balance, skill and size.  That he's already committed to playing in his own end is a bonus.  As the scout says above "...who doesn't like a big two-way centre who can be a first- or second-line centre in the NHL?"

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