One of the perks of writing for an SB Nation-affiliated site is national and international name recognition. Another perk is the large network of connections available to the writers here, especially through our colleagues. Thanks to one of my colleagues, I was able to have a conversation with a QMJHL scout currently plying his trade for a Western Conference team. The topic of the day was Sean Couturier. The conversation wasn't an in-depth scouting report, but I was able to talk through some of the questions we all have about the big center.
After a discussion about the depth of the draft class (it's a tremendously weak overall class), impact players (there will be only a handful of players to crack the NHL before 20), separation (there is a top four and the rest), and his draft board (I got nothing out of him), I asked him about Sean Couturier and the questions that surround him as he's fallen from the top of the draft rankings.
The first question was about his ice time and the notion that he was playing 30 minutes per night:
"He [Couturier] played 30 minutes, maybe more in tight games, sure. 4-5 minutes of that were on the penalty kill. When they [Drummondville] were tight or down, Duhamel [Drummondville coach Mario Duhamel] only used 4 forwards to kill penalties and Couturier was his top penalty killer."
What about the notion that Couturier's footspeed is a factor in his fall?
"Skating is not bad, but it's not a strength. I think it can be corrected this summer. It's all mechanics."
Where does your team have him ranked?
"Very high, very high. [He's] in that group we think a lot of."
Who does he compare to, rather, who will he compare to?
Some guys look at [Couturier] and see [Vinny] Prospal, a guy who is very good when he's good but not great and won't ever be a franchise guy. [Couturier] is never going to pile up points like [Joe] Thornton, but he is a complete player, [unintelligible]*, an all-around player, a goal-scorer. I liken him to [Jonathan] Toews if you correct his footwork, [Mikko] Koivu if he struggles to score. He's a complete player. If he struggles to score and [with] his skating, the downside is that he will be more like Prospal and rely on good players around him."
*The cell connection cut out for a split second, but I think this was "all over the ice", though it may have been "faceoff ace".
Obviously this take is filled with Kevin Prendergast evaluations: skating will be fixed over a summer; even if he can't score or skate, he'll still be a guaranteed 55-point guy capable of hitting 80 points once or twice. It's worth noting that he never actually said that Couturier was in his top four.
However, peel back all of the rosy talk and there are a few things to take away from this. First, the large amount of penalty kill time contributed to his big TOI numbers. That's a positive in my book and makes the even strength numbers more impressive. Penalty killing is not easy work, so his extra ice time may have made his job more difficult. I don't believe any of the other highly-ranked kids in this class were killing penalties regularly if at all, though I may be mistaken. Second, even in an extremely complimentary conversation, the scout did say he's never going to put up the offense of Joe Thornton, and cautioned that his scoring might not translate. Is there a possibility that the major concern about Couturier is that he won't be able to score in the NHL?