SAN JOSE, Calif. — Logan Couture is easily overlooked, even in San Jose.
What with the wacky Brent Burns, ageless Joe Thornton and gritty Joe Pavelski, the all-around ways of the Guelph, Ont., native can get lost in the mix, though that likely won’t be the case anymore after the post-season Couture has put together for the Sharks.
The 27-year-old leads all players with 29 points in the playoffs, including five points to pace both the Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.
“I don’t know if he’s maybe not got as much credit as some of the other guys, but we appreciate him, we know what he does every night,” said Sharks defenceman Paul Martin.
What he does every night, teammates say, is commit to playing both ends of the rink diligently and for that they believe he deserves to be recognized among the great two-way centres of today’s game, such as the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews.
“I think if you see how he plays, his impact on the game, his production – the guy steps it up in the big moments, the playoffs, just like those players do – so I don’t see why not, he should definitely be included there,” Tommy Wingels, a Sharks winger, said.
“Penalty kill, power play, blocked shots, he does everything for us,” added defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. “He does everything, every little thing and gets rewarded on the scoresheet so yeah he’s a great player.”
Couture’s performance in a Game 5 win, which helped the Sharks stave off elimination, was indicative of that all-around game. He set up two goals and scored one of his own, logged around two minutes each on the power play and penalty kill, won half of his 18 faceoffs and fired five shots.
His play on the eventual game-winner was particularly special.
Jostling for position in front with Pittsburgh defender Ian Cole, Couture received a pass from the point and then without appearing to even look, fed the puck on his backhand to Melker Karlsson in the slot, the Swedish winger beating Matt Murray for the third San Jose goal.
“It was an awesome play,” Karlsson said. “You get it right in the slot, you just have to shoot it.”
Then there was the defensive play Couture made with the Sharks protecting a 3-2 lead short-handed in the second period, Couture somehow getting a stick on Evgeni Malkin‘s glorious rebound attempt.
The ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft, Couture says he owes his defensive acumen to Brian Kilrea, the long-time head coach of the Ottawa 67’s where Couture played his junior hockey.
“The biggest thing he taught me was if you play well in your own end it leads to offensive chances,” said Couture. “As a hockey player you don’t really think that; when you’re playing out there you think offence a lot, but when you play well defensively it leads to offensive chances and it’s something that’s stuck with me.”
It isn’t only this post-season that Couture has managed to produce big-time offence.
He’s amassed at least 20 goals five times in his first six full NHL seasons and scored more than 30 goals twice. He ranks just outside the top-30 players in per-game point production since his first full season (0.78), topped by only 18 players in goals per game (0.37) during that stretch.
Wingels says Couture has been overlooked for too long.
“(But) he’s got no problem with it,” Wingels said. “He puts his head down and works. He comes to practice every day trying to get better and he comes to every game with the intent that he’s going to score a goal or make a play and make a lot of plays. He flies under the radar, but I think his play has really shown for itself here in the playoffs.”
Couture has outshined his more celebrated teammates in the final. Only once has he gone more than a game without a point, consistently producing against the Kings (six points), Predators (11 points), Blues (seven points) and now Penguins (five points).
He’s has also managed some of his biggest performances in the biggest games, posting three points each in series-closing games of every round this spring. Couture, too, is head coach Pete DeBoer’s break-in-case-of-emergency option up front, the player DeBoer opts to pair with Thornton and Pavelski when the Sharks desperately need a goal.
If San Jose somehow becomes the second team ever in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit Couture will be a prime candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy, the potential reward of a big spring.
“It’s nice,” Couture says of his post-season performance, “but it’s a personal thing and we’ve got bigger things that we’re looking at.”