2011-2012 San Jose Sharks Season Review: Logan Couture

After a banner rookie year that saw him finish second in Calder Trophy balloting and break a franchise record for goals by a first-year player, it would have been reasonable to expect Logan Couture to take a step backward in his sophomore season. That clearly didn't happen and it's not difficult to figure out why; the success Couture enjoyed in his first full NHL season wasn't built on unsustainable percentages or inflated power play minutes or leeching off top-drawer linemates. Couture scored 30 goals in 2010-11 because he controlled possession at an elite rate and he repeated the feat by continuing to dominate opponents territorially this season. In fact, since Couture secured a big-league roster spot at the start of the 10-11 season, only 19 forwards in the NHL have posted a better Corsi% than he has - most of them the cream of the NHL crop like Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, the Sedin twins, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron and Patrick Kane. That's heady company for a 23-year-old with just two full seasons under his belt.

Although Couture centered the second line for the majority of the season, as he did during his rookie campaign, his usage underwent some changes this year. He spent over a hundred more 5v5 minutes with Joe Thornton this season, often playing left wing on a line with Thornton and Pavelski, which led to Couture facing more difficult competition as did Todd McLellan sometimes opting to put Patrick Marleau on Couture's line to use against opposing top units. Along with regular linemate Ryane Clowe, Couture also started a substantially larger percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone this year. It will be interesting to monitor how Couture's usage evolves as he matures; I'd guess that Couture's higher offensive zone start rate was McLellan hedging his bets and providing the youngster with some form of protection while casting him against the toughs and second-toughs throughout the year. Based on the results, McLellan and the coaching staff can probably be confident Couture is capable of holding his own playing difficult minutes even without an advantage in starting position.

If there was a defining moment for Couture this season in terms of his actual on-ice play, it would have to be a game just before Christmas in which the Sharks outlasted the Kings in a shootout. Couture was hard-matched against the Anze Kopitar line (with Drew Doughty backing them) at even-strength in that game and finished +6 in scoring chances, with the team recording 7 EV chances for and just one against with #39 on the ice. Couture has been effective at both ends of the rink his entire career but that felt like a bit of a coming out party for him as one of the best young two-way centers in the league.

As far as defining moments of a less positive nature, Couture was thrown around like a ragdoll by the Minnesota Wild in a game on February 26th (which was also Jamie McGinn's last as a Shark and the one in which McLellan sustained a concussion while on the bench...pretty eventful for a loss to the worst team in the league) and ended up missing two games with a lower-body injury. Although he looked visibly less mobile and underwent a goal-scoring drought shortly after returning to the lineup, a lot of his lack of success (like the team's as a whole) was driven by the percentages. Couture's Fenwick% pre-injury was 55.7% which dropped slightly to 54.6% following his comeback - obviously a pretty insignificant decline. Where he did suffer was his PDO, which dropped from 990 to 979. I'm sure Couture's injury had lingering effects on his performance but probably not to the extent his severely limited production through March and April would indicate.

Logan Couture Statistical Overview

Season GP TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC DZone% Corsi Rel PDO P/60
2011-2012 80 14.15 (5th) 1.048 (4th) 43.8% (11th) +10.6 (3rd) 988 (6th) 1.91 (3rd)
2010-2011 79 13.96 (5th) 0.219 (7th) 48.8% (9th) +9.6 (4th) 1019 (1st) 2.18 (2nd)

Rankings are among forwards who appeared in at least 40 games that season; 12 qualified each year.

FTF Grade: A-. Despite some horrendous on-ice shooting luck (at least at even-strength), Couture posted another 30-goal season and even increased his point total facing far more difficult competition than he did his rookie year. He continues to develop into a premier two-way center and hopefully someone who can take over as the Sharks' No. 1 center in a dystopic future that contains an over-the-hill Thornton and/or a departed-via-free-agency Pavelski. Couture is signed to one of the best deals in the NHL, carrying a cap hit of just $2.875 million over each of the next two seasons. He'll obviously be a huge part of the team's plans going forward and as such a strong fundamental hockey player, should be one of the more reliable producers in the league.

How would you grade Logan Couture's 2011-12 season?