There were times this summer when Logan Couture would log onto YouTube and watch highlights of the Sharks' run to the Western Conference finals last spring.
It was a chance for him to marvel how, in a whirlwind couple of months, he went from being called up from the minors to playing a key role in the Sharks' postseason lineup.
But the moment when it all really sunk in came when, back home in London, Ont., he sat down with childhood friend and Los Angeles Kings Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty to play a hockey video game.
"We had the updated rosters, and he had the Kings and I had San Jose," Couture remembered. "He played himself the whole game, and I put myself on our top line with Joe (Thornton) and Patty (Marleau). It's something special to see yourself on a video game."
And the result?
"He won, 3-1," Couture said. "I think I was minus-2 for the game."
That would have been a rare substandard performance for Couture.
The Sharks always thought they had a potential star in the real-life Couture when they traded up in the 2007 draft to make him the ninth pick overall -- a move much of the NHL judged as something of a reach.
But the 21-year-old center showed the wisdom of the Sharks' gamble last year. He scored 53 points in 42 American Hockey League games while adding nine points in 25 NHL regular-season games during spot duty for the Sharks as he traveled back and forth on the Worcester Shuttle.
More importantly, he didn't look like a rookie in the playoffs when he lit the red lamp four times -- including a two-goal game in the first-round series against Colorado.
Now, as a new season dawns, the Sharks believe Couture won't be leaving the lineup any time soon.
"We're counting on him to become a full-time player," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We don't want him to be a transient player like he was last year. You can see that in his mind he belongs here. There's a confidence. We've lost some people we need to replace, and he's one of those players we need to step up."
Couture is among that group of young guns -- along with players such as winger Jamie McGinn and defenseman Jason Demers -- whom the Sharks are hoping will further blossom this season. But one glaring hole for the team was the departure of versatile center Manny Malhotra, who left for Vancouver as a free agent. Couture will be counted on to fill that opening.
The tentative plan has been to start the year with Couture centering the third line between McGinn and Torrey Mitchell. But the Sharks' brass says there is no ceiling to Couture's potential.
"He can play with Top 6 players," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "We saw that last year when he was the best player in the AHL. He just dominated. So I don't want to put any limit on him."
When Couture arrived for his first training camp in 2007, he was so shy that it was difficult to pull a complete sentence from him. Even now, he remains a quiet presence in the Sharks' locker room.
McGinn was his linemate and roommate with the Ottawa 67's junior team and said that while Couture might not say much off the ice, he's not shy once the game starts.
"He's pretty vocal when he wants to be," McGinn said. "He just picks his spots."
And Couture's low-key demeanor is not to be confused with a lack of confidence. Couture didn't appreciate how, before the draft, questions arose about his skating ability.
"Every single team asked me about my skating," he said. "I know I'm not the smoothest skater in the world like Patty Marleau, but I really didn't think I was that bad of a skater. So I didn't understand where that came from."
And Wilson said he knew what kind of player the Sharks had after Couture wasn't chosen for a Canadian national team that played in the 2008 World Junior Championships.
"Every time Logan played against John Tavares after that, he was dominant," said Wilson, referring to the star of that team who became the first pick of the 2009 draft. "Logan used that as motivation because he was pissed. He's an ultra-competitive guy who lets his game speak for itself."
It's a good thing his game shouts loudly because it's difficult to get Couture to talk about himself. He said his own expectations for this season are modest.
"I don't care about minutes, what line I play on or anything else," he said. "My goal is to be in the league all year. I think I'm capable of doing that."
Actually, the Sharks think he'll be doing much more than just that.