Competitive Couture still improving as a player
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SAN JOSE – Rising NHL star Logan Couture thinks he’s getting better with age, as he prepares for his fifth season, all with the San Jose Sharks.

After back-to-back 30-goal efforts in his first two full seasons, followed by 21 goals in the shortened 2013 campaign, the 24-year-old Couture could be primed to elevate himself to superstar status in 2013-14.

In order for the Sharks to compete for the Stanley Cup, he may have no choice. But if he’s feeling any external pressure to make that leap, he’s not letting on. In fact, he expects it himself, and that’s all the motivation he really needs.

“I don’t really listen to the outside world, just what I believe I can do,” Couture said on Wednesday. “If I’m not playing well, I know that, and if I’m playing well, I know that. We’ll see what happens, but I’m looking to have a good start.”

To watch Couture play the game is to watch a player who wears his emotions on his sweater sleeves. His energized goal celebrations are purely authentic, as are the frustrated looks on his face on his way back to the bench during a rare missed opportunity or mistake.

He’s the same way in practice, too. It’s that attitude, combined with his skill level, that Couture’s name is now mentioned in the same breath as the Thorntons, Marleaus and Boyles – all potential NHL Hall of Fame players by the time they hang up their skates – when the Sharks are the topic of discussion.

“He’s as competitive as a guy that we have,” Todd McLellan said. “He holds himself to a very high standard. He is very hard on himself even in practice when he doesn’t execute something he’s capable of.”

McLellan continued: “People are aware of Logan now. There isn’t any more sliding under the radar, or ‘who’s this guy, I didn’t know he could do that.’ It’s out there.”

It’s debatable which is the Sharks’ top line and which is the second line, not that it really matters. Couture centering Tyler Kennedy and Patrick Marleau could get more ice time one night, while the Thornton-Brent Burns-Tomas Hertl trio looks dangerous, and could see more action on another night. The Joe Pavelski-centered third line could push the pace, too, giving the Sharks a balanced and dangerous attack.

But, Couture is still the player most likely to be deemed the “head of the snake” by opposing coaches, to borrow a phrase from Ken Hitchcock. Couture finished second on the Sharks in scoring last season with 37 points, but was the team leader with 24 even-strength points.

He will have to be ready for that kind of opponent recognition on a full time basis.

“That’s a huge challenge for him,” McLellan said. “From there, he will have to accept the responsibility that was bestowed upon him last year, throughout the playoffs for an extended period and a long period. I believe he can do that, but he’s still got to take that test.

“There’s going to be moments that really are going well for him during the year and other times where it doesn’t feel as good. Success isn’t happening as easy. Those will the moments we’ll be looking at – how does he handle it? Can he fight through it? I believe the answers are yes.”

Couture has the same confidence in himself that his coach has in him.

“Each year I feel like I’ve gotten better,” he said.

It’s time to find out.