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Logan Couture quietly becomes most dangerous Shark

Logan Couture quietly leads the NHL playoffs in scoring and will be a key factor for the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final.

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Maybe it's the beard.

On a team populated by men hairy enough to re-enact the Battle of Appomattox, San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture rocks a refined Tony Stark, maybe the most generic commitment to facial hair a guy can make these days. It's a look that can get lost in a crowd, which is fitting. Surrounded by outsized personalities and hockey legends, Couture has a way of slipping below the radar.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's more a recognition that his game, like his beard, lacks a defining trait. Couture doesn't have the speed of Patrick Marleau, the size of Brent Burns, the release of Joe Pavelski or the distribution skills of Joe Thornton. He simply does a lot of things very, very well.

And that's worked out very, very well for the Sharks.

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The 27-year-old is a natural goal scorer with a salty wrist shot and a knack for finding dead space in defensive coverage. He's a solid playmaker who can quickly identify and exploit a seam. He's a relentless worker and dedicated checker whose defensive efforts are quickly becoming the best part of his game.

That's an enviable skill set, good enough to land him the starring role on many clubs. But on San Jose, Couture is the second-line center playing behind the best No. 1 line of the postseason. It's a role that seems to suit him. Sheltered behind his larger-than-life teammates, Couture has quietly established himself as the most dangerous player on the Sharks.

Entering the Stanley Cup Final, Couture leads all playoff scorers with 16 assists and 24 points. He's also tops with 11 points on the man-advantage. He's already set a franchise record for most points in a single postseason. And he's been big in the clutch. Couture scored once and added two assists to lead San Jose to a 5–2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the conference finals0. It was his third three-point game of the playoffs. All of them came in series-clinching wins.

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That's not a surprise to anyone who's paid attention to the Sharks this season. He's been the straw that stirs the drink all along.

"If you sit down and watch his game, he works nonstop out there," Marleau told "He does all those little things well and he's an extremely high-end, talented player. He should definitely be talked about."

Quiet or not, his impact has been undeniable in San Jose. Couture missed a significant stretch earlier this year. He fractured his leg during a practice just three games into the season and spent two months on IR. He returned in December but skated in two just games before internal bleeding caused him to miss another seven games.

The Sharks were 32-15-5 with him in the lineup. Without him, they were 14-15-1.

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That swing isn't entirely on him. Several Sharks have noted over the past few days that it took some time for them to wrap their arms around the system and expectations of new coach Peter DeBoer, and it wasn't until after Christmas that they finally got on board. But losing the threat of Couture down the middle didn't help.

At least not at the time. As it turns out, it may have been the best thing for him and the Sharks.

"I played 52 [regular season] games and I don't know where we're at in the playoffs, but I still haven't had a full season," he said. "I feel pretty good. I didn't play for two months, maybe three months, so it should help right now."

They'll need him to be fresh. While the Sharks have matched up against some solid competition on their path to the final, they've yet to face a team as stacked down the middle as the Penguins. Couture's ability to match up against another top center like Evgeni Malkin will be critical to San Jose's chances. The Penguins superstar is a possession driver, second only to teammate Chris Kunitz among forwards in these playoffs. But as good as Malkin is, he hasn't yet faced someone as hard on the puck as Couture. Nor someone who is capable of outscoring him at even-strength.

It should be a thrilling showdown. And maybe when it's all over, Couture will finally get the recognition he deserves.