VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the faces of the San Jose Sharks for the better part of the past decade.
They're not alone on the marquee anymore. Logan Couture has joined them -- and maybe even surpassed them.
"Patty and Joe have been the face of the franchise for many years now, but since Logan got here I have been his biggest fan," said veteran defenseman Dan Boyle, pausing as he carefully chose his words. "He's a tremendous player. He plays in all three zones. You want him on the last minute of the game, whether you are up or down a goal, he's going to block a shot or score.
"Whether it's his team or not, he's just an amazing player, I'll just put it that way."
Thornton was willing to be a little more blunt.
"Logan, this is his team," Thornton said. "He's going to be a great player for a long time."
Center - SJS
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 2 | +/-: 0
A four-year NHL veteran at age 24, Couture is already great, combining defensive awareness and intensity well beyond his years with All Star-caliber offensive skills while working his way up an impressive Sharks depth chart.
Selected by San Jose with the ninth pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, Couture scored more than 30 goals in each of his first two seasons with the Sharks, then led the team with 21 this season. He's already scored 89 goals and recorded 167 points in 232 career games and has played in the NHL All-Star Game.
Couture picked up where he left off in the regular season when the Sharks started the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, scoring the tying goal on a power play and setting up Marleau for an insurance goal with 5:32 left to secure San Jose's 3-1 win in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
As impressive as his offensive arsenal is, it's Couture's two-way game that really sets him apart. Matched up against opponents' top lines this season, Couture still managed to lead the Sharks in goals and trailed only Thornton with 37 points, earning accolades as future -- if not present -- Selke Trophy candidate.
It's fitting, then, that Couture cites a 2011 playoff against three-time Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings as the moment he knew he belonged.
"I lined up a lot against Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg, and I realized I could play against those guys and contribute offensively," said Couture, who finished the series with seven points and scored in each of the final four games to help San Jose advance to the Western Conference Finals against Vancouver.
"That was the point where I said I can be a good player in this league and took it into last year and had a good year and have grown a lot this year as well."
Couture credits the players others now compare him to for that growth.
"I have been fortunate to come to the rink every day and learn from those guys," Couture said of Thornton and Marleau. "They've been through a lot, whether it is in the NHL or internationally, they have experienced a lot, and I've picked up little things from them and added it to my game and it has helped me."
As for his defense, which includes being third among NHL forwards with 51 blocked shots this season, Couture credits his history as a street hockey goalie.
"I have always enjoyed blocking shots," Couture said. "When I was a kid, I played road hockey and I was always the goalie. I just enjoyed stopping the puck for some reason. I try to help our goalies out. [Goaltender Antti] Niemi has been unbelievable this year. Guys love playing in front of him and helping out any way we can."
Niemi appreciates it, though he's got a couple of pointers.
"He goes down too early sometimes," Niemi said with a wry smile. "He likes to be a goalie, too. I think he has goalie gear back home. He is just a tough guy who loves hockey, plays with emotion. He is our top scorer, but he also makes huge blocks and saves pucks from the goal line. He is a special player."
Couture has embraced his role as an emerging leader, but remains soft-spoken in the media, especially when praise is being heaped upon him. He may be the future face of the Sharks, but it's harder to imagine Couture as their voice.
"But quiet leaders are sometimes the best leaders, in my opinion," Boyle said. "If he doesn't say two words in the locker room, I don't care. He leads on the ice."
He does it with a motor that never stops revving.
"He just competes," Thornton said. "He doesn't necessarily have to say a lot. It's just his effort on the ice. He just battles. You always see his legs moving."
They rarely stop -- at either end of the ice.
"He has come so far in a few years," coach Todd McLellan said. "He has a full 200-foot game, both sides of the puck, power play, penalty kill, faceoffs. His competitiveness is rubbing off on some of our older players, and when that starts happening you have really made your mark in the National League."
He's already made it in San Jose, whether as the face of the franchise or not.
Author: Kevin Woodley | NHL.com Correspondent