Why Sean Couturier Is Such an Important Part of the Philadelphia Flyers' Success

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMarch 24, 2014

Couturier has helped shut down some of the game's best players.
Couturier has helped shut down some of the game's best players.Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Sean Couturier is in his third season with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Phoenix native has already become one of the most popular members of the team.

He is also one of the most valuable to those who watch the club on a game-by-game basis.

Couturier has set a career high with 35 points and there are still more than 10 games remaining on the schedule. Still, Couturier's biggest value isn't for his offensive gameat least not yet.

Instead, Couturier has used his size, speed and smarts to become a rather rare commodity in the modern NHL: a shutdown checking forward.

Flyers coach Craig Berube has matched Couturier and linemate Matt Readusually with either Steve Downie or more recently Tye McGinnagainst some of the game's most dangerous offensive players. The results have been impressive for the Flyers, a team not known for its overwhelmingly strong defensemen.

Recent examples abound. On March 15 and 16, the Flyers faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in a home-and-home series. Couturier helped keep Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoreless in both games.

Berube explained to NHL.com's Adam Kimelman why Couturier is so effective against Crosby:

I think with Sid, he's so powerful and fast and quick, if you get on the wrong side of him and you're not positionally really sound, he'll make you look stupid. Couturier is very good positional player; he's got a very good stick.

Two days later, the Flyers met the Chicago Blackhawks. Couturier and his linemates helped keep Patrick Kane without a point and limited Jonathan Toews to a single assist.

The Flyers won all three games against two of the best teams in the NHL and Couturier was a major reason why. 

He probably doesn't get enough credit, but Sean Couturier has been superb for the #Flyers both before the break and since.

— Anthony SanFilippo (@InsideTheFlyers) March 2, 2014

Couturier also has one of the best beards in the NHL.
Couturier also has one of the best beards in the NHL.Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Couturier recognizes the importance of his defensive play. He recently spoke with Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer about his role: 

In the role I have, I try to take pride in my defense and shutting down opposite lines. I think as a line, we need to focus on defense first, and try to create some offense off the other team's line trying to cheat.

Couturier's blue-collar work ethic and superior defensive play have endeared him to the fans of Philadelphia. His thick orange beard only adds character and personality to the equation.

Stoll knew he shoulda passed to Gaborik there. Also, Couturier's beard. He just turned 21 in Dec. Is there a better young beard in the NHL?

— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) March 24, 2014

At 21, Couturier is still capable of becoming a more productive offensive player and even stingier on defense. However, he's already a big reason why the Flyers are among the hottest teams in hockey right now.