For each young player who gets that first chance at getting his feet wet in the National Hockey League, there's a period of self-evaluation. A litmus test, if you will.
You have ask yourself whether you were ready for the experience, and what did you learn? Being an NHL player is kind of neat, but are you prepared to take the next step in your career? How serious are you?
You don't have to be around him for more that a few moments to learn Logan Couture
has taken everything very seriously since he has joined the San Jose Sharks
"The first thing I noticed about NHL players is that I had to get stronger. I was no longer playing every night against kids -- it was a game against men," said Couture, who played in 25 regular-season games plus another 15 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. "I had to be smarter, more mature, in every way I prepared for the game."
That preparation has paid off in a big way this season.
Couture enters Thursday's games fourth in the League with 18 goals and first among rookies with 25 points.
""I still feel like a rookie. I'm still learning the League. I'm still young and I'm learning all the stuff that comes along with being a rookie. I'd be lying if I would have said I'd have this many goals at his at this point in the season, but I've always been confident in the way I can play." -- Logan Couture
"I still feel like a rookie," said Couture. "I'm still learning the League. I'm still young and I'm learning all the stuff that comes along with being a rookie. I'd be lying if I would have said I'd have this many goals at his at this point in the season, but I've always been confident in the way I can play."
Coach Todd McLellan
quickly has learned that the 21-year-old center from Guelph, Ont., picks things up very easily.
He has played on all three top lines and has made an impact on each one. Couture's 18 goals lead the team, putting him ahead of All-Stars Patrick Marleau
, Dany Heatley
and Joe Thornton
"A lot of times there's veteran players that can get the young guys wound up," McLellan said. "Sometimes there's youth that can come in and inject a little fire into some of the older players, and I think (Couture) has done that.
"He works to stay around the puck all the time. He's able to play in traffic situations. He's figured out there's a special spot to go on the ice to score goals."
The confidence Couture gained by performing in the playoffs last spring certainly helped him. He is playing stronger on his skates and has added a touch of hunger to his game. His passion and desire come through each and every shift each night.
And even as a rookie he can be counted on to play all the tough minutes -- killing penalties, taking important faceoffs or marking an opponent.
In 2007, Couture's draft year, a scout told me: "He reminds me of a Bobby Clarke
. He's gritty. He's in your face. He's just a good, solid player."
That's high praise indeed. Others also heap praise on Couture.
Said Sharks captain Joe Thornton
: "I think he likes playing on the second line -- fits there comfortably, too. He's a confident kid. Doesn't seem like nothing really fazes him."
Part of that inner strength comes from Chet and Lori Couture -- who continued to take 3-year-old Logan out to stake, even though he cried all the way home.
"My dad always said, 'Have fun at the game. If you don't have fun, you shouldn't be playing,'" Couture said.
Couture family shadows are lengthy in both hockey and lacrosse.
Chet Lemon, Logan's grandfather, is a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. His father played hockey and refereed lacrosse for 13 years. His uncle, Brian, also spent time playing lacrosse, and another uncle, Bob, was a famous softball pitcher. Chet Couture is a firefighter, and his mother, Lori, a graduate of Brock University, is a physical education teacher. Logan grew up a fan of the Buffalo Sabres
, including goaltender Dominik Hasek
and forward Pat LaFontaine
That varied background forced Logan to grow up a strong-willed, mentally strong young man.
"I know what I expect out of myself," said Couture. "That's what I care about. I don't care what other people expect from me."
The Sharks traditionally have drafted on the basis of character first; Couture oozes that. In fact, San Jose moved up from No. 13 to ninth in the first round in 2007 to pick Logan.
Obstacles to overcome? Logan lists many, including mononucleosis in his Draft season, which dropped him in the pre-draft rankings.
"When Logan Couture
didn't make the (Canadian) World Junior team, he used that as a motivator," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "He dominated the AHL. He's a young player that has earned his ice time.
"He's a kid who can play with high-end players. He plays the game fast because he thinks the game so well."
The Sharks have become masters at identifying players they believe fit best in their system and then find a way to secure the identified players.
"I'd rather leave the draft floor with two or three players that we had identified as our type of player rather than six or seven maybes," said Wilson. "The toughest part of this business is evaluating 18-year-old kids from very diverse backgrounds and making a conviction on the kids.
"That's where the trust factor fits. And (Director of Scouting) Tim Burke and our staff definitely have my trust. If they say they want a player, it's my job to find a way to get him."
The best advice Couture has gotten came from his junior coach, Brian Kilrea
of the Ottawa 67s, who recalls, "Personally, I'd take a team of Logan Coutures. He never puts himself first. It's all about the team with him."
Skating was the major concern for scouts who downgraded Couture, so Kilrea recommended a power-skating guru to improve that part of his game.
"I have to work on my overall stride," said Couture. "I'm going work on my starts, crossovers."
There's the drive to be better that comes out in every conversation about Logan Couture
. The bar seems to get higher and higher with every game he plays.