By Stu Hackel
The NHL’s rookie hype machine needs a few adjustments because it’s overlooking perhaps the best all-around first year player so far this season: Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks.
It’s well documented that the league’s promotional efforts tend to focus on certain players at the exclusion of others, and there’s no better example than the way they got behind Sidney Crosby coming out of the lockout. There was honest justification for that, of course, given that Crosby was always considered an exceptional talent. He was drafted first overall after the Penguins won the right to pick him in the lottery. The downside was an overkill so pronounced that it unleashed an anti-Crosby backlash among fans, and the more charismatic Alex Ovechkin was initially overlooked (that has since been corrected). Plus, after the Red Wings defeated the Penguins for the 2008 Stanley Cup, the league got so fixated on promoting Crosby that miffed Wings coach Mike Babcock wondered aloud if the NHL thought the Penguins were the champions.
This year, the league seems to be ramping up its efforts to turn the Oilers’ Taylor Hall into its fresh-faced poster boy — and with good reason. He’s another first overall draft pick, he’s got that wholesome look about him, and, most importantly, he’s starting to play pretty great hockey. So after being named the league’s Third Star of the Week, Hall’s smiling face showed up on NHL on the Fly last night for this phoner…
…which is all well and good, except for the fact that the NHL Network gushed all over Hall, along with his Oiler rookie cohort Jordan Eberle and teammate Shawn Horcoff, in a mid-November video orgy that included the trio and the NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe walking through Times Square and in a four-part round table discussion on the season so far and such provocative topics as laundry, ice cream and cooking dinner.
At the end of the Hall interview on Monday, after reminding the young Oiler that he was seen eating fast food during that Times Sqaure shoot, host David Amber asked Hall who he’d select as the top rookie. Hall named his linemate Eberle or the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner. Amber then suggested Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Hall added his former Windsor Spitfire junior teammate Cam Fowler of the Ducks.
Funny, they didn’t include the Canadiens’ exciting P.K. Subban, who has certainly gotten a serious amount of buzz in his first full season (not all of it good) and is often in Calder Trophy dialogues.
But what about Couture? He’s right behind Skinner in points (Skinner with 20, Couture with 18) and is a more complete player. Not only is he the rookie leader in goals (12), he’s an excellent playmaker, terrific on faceoffs (he’s the rookie leader in that, too), a solid forechecker, a very good defensive player in his own zone and has the kind of personality that will earn him a “C” on his sweater one day.
On Monday night in Detroit, where the Red Wings had lost only once in regulation all season, Couture scored twice for San Jose and showed why he merits attention. His first goal came in the second period, just eight seconds after the Sharks had tied the score following an awful first period for the visitors…
…and showed off his rocket shot. His second goal displays his great skating, puck awareness and quick stick in front of the net….
…and he put the game out of the Red Wings’ reach, giving the Sharks a huge two points.
Yet, inexplicably, Couture doesn’t seem to be in the top rookie discussion. We don’t see his smiling face very often compared to Hall’s cute mug, but he’s got the good teeth, too:
So let’s get the NHL’s technicians out to fix their starmaking machinery. There are some pretty good rookies this season who deserve more attention, like the Capitals’ John Carlson, the Avs’ Kevin Shattenkirk and the Rangers’ Derek Stepan, and, especially, Logan Couture. His eating habits are worthy of a video segment, too.