What seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote about the myth of depth as it regards to the San Jose Sharks. After losing Logan Couture (the first time) and Paul Martin, the Sharks stuttered and hit a bit of a skid. That highlighted how important the forward (and Martin, of course) are to San Jose — but not as much as his return did.
Since Couture returned to the Sharks on December 30 the team has drastically improved its possession game. Just compare the possession numbers for San Jose leading up to December 30 and compare them to the Sharks' numbers following it. All stats from here on out are courtesy of www.war-on-ice.com.
The Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts) numbers in particular impress me. While Couture played in a handful of games before Dec. 30, the majority of his games came in 2016. Since he rejoined the team full time, the Sharks FF% jumped to 54.5 from 51.9. That 54.5 mark is the third-best in the NHL since that time, trailing only the Kings and Penguins. Couture played a big part in reviving San Jose's game — and that helped push the Sharks back to the playoffs.
His FF% of 54.73 is the fifth-best on the Sharks, but that becomes more impressive when you look at who occupies the top four spots. Joe Thornton, naturally, claims the top spot with a FF% of 58.30 and then three players who have played with Thornton slot in beneath him. Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi rank second, third and fourth on the Sharks in FF% and Thornton has just about everything to do with that.
Couture brings enough skill to the second line to allow Pavelski and Thornton to combine for an over-loaded top line that can overpower just about any first line in the league. Donskoi is the forward Couture most often found himself on the ice (430 even strength minutes) and after the Finnish player it's a mixture of Patrick Marleau (142), Joel Ward (189), Tommy Wingels (160) and Melker Karlsson (148). You can see his With Or Without You (WOWY) chart below, courtesy of www.hockeyviz.com.
To better show his impact on his teammates, check out the "replacement" chart below. It shows the possession stats for Couture compared to any given teammate. You'll notice something in common with the players who play better without Couture than with him...
The aforementioned players are either Thornton...or common teammates of Thornton. You'll also notice that other than Donskoi (who as we mentioned spent time with the Joes earlier this season) Couture hasn't spent much time with any of the forwards sporting better possession numbers apart from him.
Other than those outliers, Couture dramatically improves the play of just about every player he skates with. The team as a whole is better with him on the ice than it is when he's off it (you can see the blue S.J. is to the right of the red S.J., which indicates as much). On a team dominated by Thornton, Pavelski and Marleau, Couture serves a purpose for this Sharks team that goes beyond the points he racks up.
Those don't hurt, either.