Logan Couture has a lot sitting on his shoulders. Since trading up to draft him ninth overall in 2007, the Sharks have made it clear that Logan is the future of the franchise. With an aging core and a major off-season coming up, the future might be now. This season was a big one for Couture to make a name for himself as a veteran leader.
Couture missed the preseason as part of the winning Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey, his first time representing his country internationally. Between making it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time and then participating in the World Cup at the end of the summer, this was the shortest off-season Couture has ever had. If he was exhausted by the end of this season, it's not hard to see why.
The forward has a lengthy history of injuries. Since 2009, he's only played a full season twice, one of which was the lockout shortened season of 2012-13. This season was no exception. Couture played 73 games, missing the final seven games after taking a puck to the mouth against Nashville on March 25th. He didn't miss any time for it, but Couture also had a minor surgery in December, removing a screw from his right ankle that had been irritating him early in the season.
The latter injury didn't slow him down, though. He posted 25 goals and 27 assists for 52 points on the season. It was his worst points per game average since 2010-11 – y'know, the season he was second place in Calder voting? Averaging .71 points per game isn't necessary as good as we've expected Couture to be, but it's nothing to scoff at, either. He was twelfth in the league in goals for at 62.1% and he led the team in goals against, proving himself as a two-way forward, despite his revolving cast of linemates through most of the season.
The playoffs are where Couture really shines. During the 2015-16 playoff run, he averaged more than a point per game, with only six games where his name wasn't on the scoresheet. Three points, coming in two of six games, certainly isn't up to last year's standard, but when you factor in a busted mouth, it's still impressive. Add in that Couture was often sharing the ice with Connor McDavid, and I can't see how anyone could ask any more of him. His return after injury may have been questionable, but he was still able to be productive and, more importantly, he didn't injure himself further by coming back for round one - at least, as far as we know (and if you know better, please don't break my heart any further).
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey)
ZSR: Zone Start Ratio; The percentage of non-neutral zone starts that are offensive zone starts (OZS/(OZS + DZS))
TOI.QoT: Time On Ice Quality of Teammates; The weighted average TOI% of a player’s teammates
Rel.CF%: Individual corsi-for percentage subtracted by the team’s overall corsi-for percentage.
Logan Couture Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Logan Couture Hero Chart (via Own The Puck)
Logan Couture scored the first Sharks goal of the night on the power play against the Ottawa Senators. He had surgery to remove the screw in his ankle on Sunday, missed practice through Tuesday, and scored first for the Sharks on Wednesday. The Sharks lost that game 4-2, but it certainly wasn’t because Logan Couture didn’t show up.
What comes next?
Couture is under contract with the Sharks through 2019, with a modified no-trade clause that kicked in this season. No worries about losing him to Vegas. He's proven himself more than capable of bouncing back from injuries and the biggest hurdle of his latest injury is all of the hardware in his mouth, which should be long gone by October.
Next season may see Couture's usage change, depending on the moves made in the off-season. If Marleau and Thornton are re-signed, and Jumbo is able to come back from his injury, then the differences might be smaller. Realistically, Thornton won't return at his best and there'll be some shuffling of lines (hopefully) alongside a restructured power play.
Couture is still under 30, and should continue to grow as a leader. He’s an important piece to have moving forward. Hopefully he gets all the rest he needs for that gruesome looking mouth of his this summer.