The scene: a media/staff elevator in a junior hockey rink.
The parties: two scouts, in town to watch Ottawa 67’s junior phenom Logan Couture.
The scenario: minutes before game time, media and scouts alike learn that Couture will not be able to suit up due to an undisclosed illness, rumored – and later confirmed – to be mononucleosis.
“Hey, did you hear? Logan’s a no-go tonight,” says scout No. 1.
“Really,” scout No. 2 replies. “that’s OK, we’re not interested in drafting him anyways.”
And while these two scouts were joking about Couture’s future on what is conceivably the slowest elevator in all of junior sports, the undeniable fact is that Couture, the product of London, Ontario, is on the fast track to stardom. The only question that seems to linger is whether he or Quebec Remparts’ standout Angelo Esposito will hear their name called first on June 23rd, 2007 at the 45th National Hockey League Entry Draft in Columbus, Ohio.
Couture currently holds the pole in this race, earning ISS’s No. 1 ranking in its first rankings for the draft. And while there’s now a third contender to the throne in Halifax’s Jakob Voracek, the consensus is that Couture’s overall game will be a welcome addition to any line-up.
“I guess is it fair to label him and put that pressure on that he’s a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect? I mean there’s been some top draft picks that were pegged as ‘can’t miss’ and didn’t pan out,” explained one NHL scout. “But I think this boy, just his character alone and the fact that he’s not a one-dimensional player, you just can’t go wrong. Every team in the league would love to have him and he’s one of those kids who will probably have a 10 or 15-year career.
“He’s a pretty special player. I mean he’s the type of player that really doesn’t have a weakness to his game. He’s a pretty complete player and I think he’s going to put up some pretty big numbers here in junior and when he gets to the pros, I think he’s going to be a 30/30 guy. He shows great leadership, he plays both ends of the rink, he’s got great character – well, he plays for Killer [Ottawa 67s head coach Brian Kilrea] and Killer doesn’t keep guys around if they don’t have the right character. I’ve got all the time in the world for him – he’s going to be a good one.”
The question for NHL clubs is, how good? And that’s makes this year’s run-up to the entry draft so compelling. With no clear-cut choice, it comes down to a team’s preference – and maybe their willingness to gamble.
“I think they’re totally different players. I think that Couture’s a more of a complete player, but by no means am I taking anything away from Esposito. He’s a special player as well,” an NHL scout said. “When you think of Esposito you think of the flair, the dramatic, the end-to-end rushes and he’s an offensive threat. I think maybe he’s got a little more work to do on the defensive side when he gets to the next level, whereas Couture’s a little more polished all-around player.
“Esposito’s a game breaker and if he’d be really hard to pass up No. 1, but then you’ve got Couture who reminds me of a Bobby Clarke. He’s gritty. He’s in your face. He’s just a good solid player. You could hit a home run with Esposito but you’re rolling the dice – is he going to be a superstar or is he going to be like Alexander Daigle? I’m more of a conservative guy, I think your chances are a little bit better going with Couture – but who knows?”
For his part, Couture’s not going to get caught up in watching the score sheets to see how his competition is faring. Instead of focusing externally, he’s putting the pressure square on his own shoulders.
“I just look at is as I want to go out and play consistent every night. Where I go depends totally on how I play each night, so it’s all on my own shoulders,” Couture explained. “It’s all up to me and what I do.”
Couture enjoyed a stellar rookie season with the 67s, finishing the season with 25 goals and 64 points in just 65 games – good enough for third overall in rookie scoring. This year, Couture battled his way to five points in his first five games, before finally being shut down due to mononucleosis.
And even if he doesn’t go first overall, Couture said he would not be disappointed, preferring to look at the glass half-full. “[Being drafted first overall] is not important at all. If I go in the first round, then I look at it as I’m some team’s No. 1 pick.”
Each night, Couture’s fills out an on-ice application for a variety of potential employers, as rinks around the OHL see an increase in scout sightings when the 67s come to town. And if he needs a letter of reference, his venerable coach is ready to offer his endorsement.
“He’s going to be a great player. Personally, I’d take a team full of Logan Coutures,” Kilrea explained. “He comes to the rink, he works, he does everything for the team and he’s never put himself first.
“We’re going to use him as much as we can. We hope that he goes No. 1, and whoever gets him is going to get a great player.”
In fact, Couture’s competitiveness prevented him from getting the rest he needed, despite displaying flu-like symptoms. “He’s a great player for us and he certainly makes our team go. He’s been trying to play through it, but he’s getting sicker,” Kilrea explained. “He’s just trying to help, but he’s lost weight and I think this is one of those few times he’s listened and is getting the rest he needs. He’ll be better in the long run for it.
“His health hasn’t been good since the beginning of the year, so he hasn’t been able to do what he wants to do.”
The general consensus is that Couture’s two-way game is what sets him apart from other kids his age. Since coming into the OHL last year, he’s demonstrated his willingness to play both ends of the ice.
“I think he’s got really good hockey sense,” another scout explained. “He competes. His puck skills are very good, and this is going back to last year. His competitiveness stands out – and his willingness to play in front of the net for a guy who has only average size.”
It’s a lesson that’s been instilled in the 6’0.5, 188-pounder since he started lacing up the skates. “Even when I was younger, I was taught to play both ends of the ice,” Couture said. “I believe that you can’t just focus on filling the net, you also have to work at preventing goals from going in your own net.”
When Couture finally finds his way back onto an OHL rink, he can be sure that the watchful eyes of the scouts will be there to take it all in. And while for some kids the pressure can be overwhelming, Couture’s been able to take it all in stride.
“Going into my OHL draft year, there were scouts around all the time, so I’ve had a little bit of experience with that, but this is the NHL,” he said. “It’s bigger, of course. There’s a little bit of pressure, but I’ve got some experience.”
In the end, Couture will likely hear his name called early in the draft. And the way the NHL season has played out to date, chances are he won’t be donning his favorite team’s colors. “My favorite team’s the Sabres, so if I went there I’d really be excited,” Couture said.
But, barring a trade, the Buffalo faithful shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for him to fall. He’ll be long gone and starting an NHL career that may not be ‘can’t miss,’ but it looks pretty darn good right now.
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