SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks second-line center Logan Couture has had two major surgeries, missed 30 games and scored 10 goals this season.
It's easy to understand how rough IT has been for Couture, yet it's hard to imagine where the Sharks would be if he weren't around; they're 27-12-5 with Couture in the lineup and 14-15-1 without him.
"He's a guy that quietly goes about his business, and you can see how important of a piece to our lineup that he is," Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said. "He plays in every role possible on this team. Offensive roles, defensive roles, special teams. He's a guy out there at the end of the game who's going to preserve a lead.
"In my mind he is a first-line center, and we have the luxury of allowing him to play that second line (behind Joe Thornton). I think that's what makes our lineup so difficult to play against. Any player wants to be as high on the depth chart as they can, but he doesn't take that in a bad way. He takes advantage of the opportunity there. But he can play against the other top line, he can shut down the other team's top line, and he can be a scoring threat as well."
The Sharks were 3-0-0 and outscored their opponents 12-1 when Couture fractured his right fibula at the ankle during an Oct. 15 practice at Prudential Center, the day before a game against the New Jersey Devils. During a 5-on-5 drill, Couture's skate got caught in a rut in the corner. He hit the ice, a teammate fell on him, and Couture heard a pop.
Couture had surgery, and doctors inserted a rod and pins in his ankle.
After missing 23 games, he returned Dec. 8 against the Calgary Flames. The next night, against the Edmonton Oilers, he sustained what he initially thought was a minor injury to his right thigh. As it turned out, Couture had to have surgery because of internal bleeding and missed seven more games.
Asked to describe his season, Couture paused before answering.
"I think 'difficult' is probably the word," Couture said. "Being injured is never fun, especially when they're serious injuries. They're tough to come back from. Your confidence kind of wavers. At least mine did, and it still does throughout these games. So it's been a tough year.
"There's some games where I'm pretty sore," he said of his ankle, "and it's just a matter of kind of getting through the game and doing what I can."
The Sharks chose Couture with the No. 9 pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, and he has 317 points (149 goals, 168 assists) over seven seasons. Couture has scored 30 goals twice, and last season scored 27 and had NHL career -highs in assists (40) and points (67).
"He's just one of those players that definitely plays the game the right way," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "Does a lot of little things, a lot of those hard areas, blocking shots and around the net and forechecking.
"When you plug him back into our lineup, he brings that depth, partly because he makes players around him better as well."
Shortly before the season began, new Sharks coach Peter DeBoer named Couture an alternate captain. This season is his first wearing a letter on his jersey.
"It's an honor," Couture said. "Obviously there's a lot of leaders, a lot of veteran guys in the room. So it's definitely an honor. There's more leaders than just guys with letters on our jerseys."
Couture said he has slowly grown into a leadership role with the Sharks.
"I think it's been gradual throughout my time here," he said. "Anytime you spend seven years with one organization around a lot of guys, the newer guys are going to come in and look up to you.
"I spend a lot of time with a lot of these guys away from hockey as well, so I think that has something to do with it. That's how you form that bond, first away from the game and as well at the rink."
Couture's perseverance and ability to come back from major injuries this season has made an impression on his teammates.
"There's nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines," Wingels said. "He unfortunately has had to do that a couple times, and he's come back stronger every time, and that's a testament to him, taking care of himself and making sure he's ready to help the team when he comes back. In my mind, there's not a better guy on this team who epitomizes what a leader is and what we want one of the captains of this team to be."