The pair of best two-way centers ever to wear a Flyers uniform – Bobby Clarke and Dave Poulin – became the first and only Philly players to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy.
Until Thursday night.
That’s when it was announced Sean Couturier has joined that illustrious fraternity by capturing this year’s award.
Clarke earned the Selke — “awarded annually to the National Hockey League forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game’’ – for the 1982-83 season. It became part of his Hockey Hall of Fame resume.
Poulin, also one of the most well-rounded players in team history, took home the Selke in 1986-87.
Thirty-three years later, it was Couturier’s turn.
In this year’s voting, Couturier finished ahead of St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly (last year’s winner) and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (a four-time winner).
Voting for the award is conducted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
“It’s a great honor,’’ Couturier told NBCSN after the announcement. “Without my teammates, it wouldn’t be possible – teammates, coaching staff, management, the whole organization.
“Without them believing in me and helping me throughout the year, I wouldn’t be a winner. I’d like to congratulate the two other nominees as well, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly, two great players I respect a lot.’’
Couturier, a 27-year-old native of Phoenix, Ariz. and raised in Canada, was a finalist for the award in 2017-18 but was edged out by Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar.
It was a banner year for Couturier, who scored 22 goals in a pandemic-shortened season and led the Flyers with a plus-21.
Defensively, he was matched up against some of the top scoring players in the NHL, including Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon.
Former Flyer Keith Jones, now analyst/broadcaster for NBC as well as the Flyers, has an up-close view of Couturier’s work on a nightly basis.
“Leadership comes with the award,’’ Jones pointed out. “You think of the other guys who are up for the award, O’Reilly, Bergeron. . .one of the best leaders in the game. You don’t always have to wear the ‘C’ (for captain), Couturier wears the ‘A’ (alternate).
“But his defensive game is outstanding. Great on faceoffs, very similar to Bergeron. Not to that level yet but deserving of the award because the Flyers’ turnaround this year was significant based on the way they have played the previous year.’’
Added fellow NBCSN analyst Patrick Sharp: “It’s not just his defensive side. He scores a lot of goals, he’s out there in key situations to put the puck in the net.’’
In a Thursday afternoon press briefing, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Couturier does just about everything well.
“You have a man here in Sean Couturier who took a few years in the league to find the offensive part of his game, but a guy that plays the right way defensively,’’ Fletcher said.
“He understands the game, doesn’t cheat, wins battles, wins faceoffs, very good on the forecheck, very good in his own zone, very good penalty killer and very good on the power play.’’
Couturier is not known as a self-promoter, so perhaps that hurts him when awards voting comes around.
But he has won the Bobby Clarke Trophy (team MVP) the past two seasons, so someone is paying attention.
“There’s flashier players than Sean Couturier,’’ Fletcher said. “In terms of just getting the job done, matching up against top players and producing in the clutch, he’s a remarkable player for us and certainly is a worthy nominee for the Selke Trophy. A guy who’s really driving the bus for this team right now.’’
Back in July at the time of his nomination, Couturier said he was humbled to be in the same company with Bergeron, who was nominated for a record ninth time.
Being nominated twice in the last three years was considered an honor by Couturier.
“It’s nice to be honored and recognized by the media,” said Couturier. “It reflects on the year that the team had as well. I try to pay attention to details and do the right things all the time, be on the right side of the puck and reliable in all aspects of the game. I try to take pride in that.”
Couturier appeared in all 69 games for the Flyers this season, recording the aforementioned 22 goals plus 37 assists for 59 points. His plus-minus rating of plus-21 tied him for 10th among all NHL forwards.
In addition, he also had a faceoff win percentage of 59.6, which led the NHL among the 256 players who took at least 50 faceoffs this season.
Couturier was selected by the Flyers in the first round (7th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft out of Drummondville of the QMJHL and jumped directly to the NHL, appearing in 77 games as a rookie. He has appeared in 647 of a possible 691 games over nine NHL seasons, which is the most of anyone in the 2011 draft class.
His career plus-minus of plus-92 ranks best among that draft class, 14th in the NHL in that nine-year timeframe, and is plus-67 better than any other Flyer in that span.
Couturier’s draft selection spot was obtained in a trade with Columbus. The Flyers also obtained Jake Voracek in that deal, which sent Jeff Carter to the Blue Jackets.