Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammates Patrick Marleau #12 and Joe Thornton #19 after scoring a power play goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night.
Photograph by: Rich Lam, Getty Images
VANCOUVER — He is a frustrated goaltender who now spends a lot of time frustrating goaltenders.
Logan Couture, who is developing a reputation as one of the best two-way forwards in the game, says all the time he spent playing goal in road hockey games as a kid helped him gain an appreciation for the defensive side of the game.
Yes, he loves scoring goals -- and Couture has scored 84 of them the last three seasons for the San Jose Sharks -- but he also enjoys preventing them.
Couture led the Sharks with 21 goals in the recently completed 48-game shortened regular season, but he is equally proud of the 51 blocks he registered.
"I have always enjoyed blocking shots," the 24-year-old centre said Thursday. "When I was a kid I played road hockey and I was always the goalie. I just enjoyed stopping the puck for some reason. I try to help our goalies out. (Antti) Niemi has been unbelievable this year. Guys love playing in front of him and helping out any way we can."
Couture's 51 blocks were the third highest by a NHL forward this season. No one appreciated them more than Niemi.
"He likes to be a goalie off the ice, too," Niemi joked Thursday. "Street hockey. I think they have goalie gear back home.
"He is just a tough guy who loves playing hockey, plays with lots of emotion, he is our top scorer but he is also making huge blocks and saving pucks from the goal line. He is a special player."
So special that Couture seems a lock to be making the long trip from San Jose to Sochi next winter to represent Canada at the Olympics.
Couture has come a long way very quickly since being selected ninth overall by the Sharks in the 2007 draft out of the Ottawa 67's. After one full season in the minors he joined the Sharks and has quickly evolved into an elite player.
He is the kind of young star, drafted and developed by the organization, that the Vancouver Canucks simply do not seem to have now or on the horizon.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan absolutely gushed about Couture on Thursday.
"It was interesting last night we looked at his playoff games played and I think that was his 40th game (actually, his 39th) already as pretty young player," McLellan said. "I just think he has come so far in a few years. He has a full 200-foot game, both sides of the puck, power play, penalty-kill, faceoffs. His competitiveness is rubbing off on some of our older players and when that starts happening you have really made your mark in the National League."
The Canucks were witnesses to Couture's offensive prowess in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series with the Sharks on Wednesday night. Couture took a pass in the deep slot from Dan Boyle and snapped a wrist shot past Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo late in the second period to tie the game 1-1. He also picked up an assist on Patrick Marleau's insurance goal late in the third period to help seal the Sharks' 3-1 win.
"We all know him for his offensive ability, but he brings a lot more to the table than that," Luongo said of Couture on Thursday. "He is really good in the defensive zone, he is going to lay down to block shots. He's the type of guy that does whatever it takes to win and those are the type of guys you want on your team."
Joe Thornton is certainly happy to have Couture on his team and has no problem sharing the leadership torch with him. In fact, Couture's emergence has clearly taken some of the pressure off veterans like Thornton and Marleau.
"It's huge," Thornton said of Couture's development. "I have been a fan of Logan's since Day 1. Ever since he has been in the league he just competes in both ends of the rink, he just keeps getting better and better. You need a penalty-kill, he kills penalties, you need a shootout goal, he'll go score you the goal. He really does everything for this team."
Couture embraces the leadership role, even though it was only two years ago that he became completely convinced that he had arrived as a player in the NHL. That happened in a second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings.
"That series I lined up a lot against (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg and I realized I could play against those guys and contribute offensively. I think I had four or five goals in that series and that was the point where I said I can be a good player in this league and took it into last year and had a good year and have grown a lot this year as well."
Couture said he has also benefitted greatly from playing with the likes of Thornton and Marleau.
"It has helped me ton," he said. "I have been fortunate to be here for four years and come to the rink every day and learn something new from those guys. They have been through a lot as players, whether it is in the NHL or internationally, they have experienced a lot. I picked up little things from them and took it to my game and it has helped me."
ICE CHIPS: Couture finished the season playing with Marleau and Martin Havlat and started Game 1 that way. But Havlat went down with an undisclosed injury in the first period Wednesday night and Couture and had a revolving set of right wingers for the rest of the night. McLellan would not provide an update on Havlat's condition on Thursday. . .The Sharks had a highly optional practice Thursday. James Sheppard and Andrew Dejardins were the only Sharks who played Wednesday night and skated on Thursday.
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