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Where Should Sharks Play Couture, Center or Wing?

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Logan Couture will soon be ready to play in his first game of the season. 

Head coach David Quinn will have plenty of options for Couture as they attempt to ease him back into game action. Couture, who has missed the entire season with a lower-body injury, has been participating in full practices for about two weeks.

So where should Quinn play Couture, at center or wing?

Couture, of course, has been a center his whole career, and a highly successful one at that. But there’s an argument to get creative with his position, at least upon his return, in part to ease him back into game action, and because of Tomas Hertl and Mikael Granlund are already giving the San Jose Sharks two credible top-six options up the middle.

So where should the Sharks start their captain?

2nd Line With Barabanov

For the last several seasons, Couture and Tomas Hertl have traded off as the San Jose Sharks’ top-two centers.

With Couture coming back, him being Wally Pipp’d by Granlund doesn’t seem fair to Couture, who is coming off one of his best seasons in a while. Last year, Couture played all 82 games and had 67 points. That is the most he’s had since the Sharks’ 2019 Western Conference Finals run.

Inserting Couture back into a top-six role and pairing him with Alexander Barabanov and either Mike Hoffman or Anthony Duclair and letting them go is a very logical solution for Quinn to explore.

Last season, per Natural Stat Trick, Couture and Barabanov had very positive numbers when paired together. They had a positive shot differential and expected goals for. This combo (and some guy named Erik Karlsson) was one of the reasons that the Sharks were not the worst team in the NHL last season.

Reuniting Couture with Barabanov could help solve a few problems for Quinn. Barabanov has struggled this season prior to the finger injury that knocked him out for over a month and is just now starting to find his game again after the injury. If they can re-ignite the chemistry they had last season, the Sharks can get a better sample size of Barabanov before deciding his future heading into the NHL Trade Deadline.

Also, perhaps Couture can be used to raise the trade values of pending UFAs Barabanov, Hoffman, or Duclair.

3C?

David Quinn could also look to play Couture on the third line.

With Granlund playing as well as he has, why mess with one of the few things that have been working for the San Jose Sharks? Yes, the Sharks still struggle to score goals on a consistent basis, but Granlund has been a breath of fresh air for them with his creativity, playmaking, and ability to come through in the clutch. It is a tough situation for Quinn to ask Granlund to take a demotion when his play on the ice doesn’t deserve one.

Theoretically, Couture in a third-line role would allow him to play more focused minutes. Quinn and company have said that they want to ease Couture back into action.

Last season, Couture averaged 19:08 time on ice, the second-most in his career. Nico Sturm, playing third-line center this year, is averaging 14:35 a night. Splitting the difference would put Couture around 16 minutes of time on ice a night, at least to start. He can focus on getting back to speed while helping to solidify the defense on the bottom-six and provide some much-needed offense from there for San Jose. 

He should be a significant upgrade over Jack Studnicka, now with the San Jose Barracuda, and Luke Kunin, thought to be better at wing, at 3C.

Having Couture’s line take on some tougher defensive matchups could allow Granlund and company to feast on other lines and give the Sharks some more scoring too.

Also, if Nico Sturm comes back this month, like he projects to, San Jose could actually be legitimately deep at a position for once, with three top-six centers in Hertl, Granlund, and Couture in their top-nine, and a Stanley Cup winner as a fourth-line pivot in Sturm.

Wing It?

Logan Couture hasn’t played on the wing on a regular basis in over a decade.

The last time he was a regular winger was during the 2011-2012 season, where he spent 16.87% of his even-strength time on a line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. While Quinn eases Couture back into the fray, playing him on the wing could allow for the Sharks to load up their top lines and limit Couture’s workload. Quinn could also continue to use Granlund and Hertl on the draws. Hertl is one of the best in the NHL, winning over 57% as of Jan. 7, and Granlund is a respectable 50%.

BREAKING: Quinn Expects Couture To Play on Upcoming Sharks’ Road Trip

As great a center as Couture is, he hasn’t excelled at winning faceoffs historically, finishing below 50 percent in each season since 2014-15.

With Barabanov, Hoffman, Zadina, and Duclair unable to solidify the top-six at wing this season, having Couture gives the Sharks another option in that department while he gets back into game shape. This could be a win-win for both parties.

Last year, Couture was successful at crashing the net, while Barabanov created high-danger chances. Hertl and Eklund, for example, have been on the ice to create 71 high-danger chances while giving up 56, good for a 55.91 HDCF%. Could Couture help them finish?

These were all the goals that Couture scored last year, per Evolving Hockey:

The remaining Sharks combined have 173 HDCF and 275 HDCA or 38.62%, by the way.

S0 Couture could be effective in that department, flanking either Hertl or Granlund.

Mentor?

Once Couture is back to being Couture, could Quinn continue his pattern of having a veteran center paired with a young winger?

The Sharks’ season changed once Hertl and Eklund were paired together, and Granlund and Zetterlund have provided a lot of offense, relatively, for the Sharks this season.

So who would the Sharks pair with Couture?

Filip Zadina seems to be the obvious candidate to continue this veteran-youngster duo. Zadina has shown flashes this season but has not been able to find a consistent role. Pairing the 2018 sixth-overall pick with Couture could give Zadina a stabilizing player to build some chemistry with as the Sharks continue to determine the pending RFA’s future with the franchise.

If Zadina doesn’t work out with Couture, Thomas Bordeleau and Danil Gushchin should get some NHL time this season after the Trade Deadline and will be put in a better position to succeed with a veteran like Couture.

If Logan Couture can return to form, he could be a big boost for the development of the young players, even if it doesn’t lead to that many more wins in the standings.

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