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NHL Network ranks Thornton, Couture among league’s top 25 centers

High praise for San Jose’s top two centers.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at San Jose Sharks John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Network named San Jose Sharks centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture the 25th and 24th-best centers, respectively, in the NHL, as the pair missed on the top 20 unveiled on Sunday.

A season after finishing fifth in Hart Trophy voting, the now-38-year-old Thornton began to show signs of aging last season, as he scored his lowest point total (50) since scoring 41 points as a 19-year-old in 1998-99. He remained a solid possession player, but his raw and relative corsi-for percentages dropped 3.4% from the previous season, according to Hockey Reference, as the team’s corsi-for percentage dropped 0.49% from 2015-16, per Natural Stat Trick.

"He's still getting it done, you still have to game plan against him," NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp said. "Most guys his age, No. 1 aren't in the League, and No. 2, they've kind of moved into a different role where you aren't game planning against them, you are game-planning against somebody else."

Couture, meanwhile, scored 25 goals for the second time in three seasons, and the fourth time in his eight-year NHL career. His 0.71 points per game were a slight improvement over the previous year (a nice 0.69 in 2015-16), but Couture finished the season with below 50% corsi-for, and a negative relative corsi-for percentage (-2.2%) for the second time in his career.

"I think he sneaks under the radar out there in San Jose because of some of the bigger personalities they have, but he is so good." Rupp said. "I think we've seen how good he is on an international level, but he is so good defensively, offensively. He's a little bit of a throwback player and old school in the way he plays. He took a puck to the face in March and missed seven games, but returned for the Stanley Cup Playoffs Couture isn't afraid to block shots and do all the intangibles."

Both Couture and Thornton saw their regular seasons cut short due to injury, but each player returned in San Jose’s six-game, first round loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the postseason. Thornton scored two points in four games, playing on a torn ACL and MCL, while Couture scored three in six games playing with multiple facial fractures and a mouth that retired Mercury News sports columnist Mark Purdy described as like “peering into a collapsed mine.”

Earlier this summer, NHL Network ranked San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski the seventh-best winger in the NHL and netminder Martin Jones the ninth-best goalie. They will unveil the top 20 defensemen in the league on Saturday, followed by an incremental release of the league’s top 50 players every Sunday from September 3 to October 1 in the lead-up to the regular season.