Labanc Statement: Why the young winger is more important to the Sharks’ success than you’d think

After early-season struggles, San Jose forward gives hope that needed depth is already in-house

Gabriel John Ostler
February 21, 2019 - 12:36 pm

If nothing else occurs from here on out, Kevin Labanc’s 2018-19 Sharks season will still provide the tremendous answer to a trivia question: Who did Joe Thornton feed for both goals that led to Jumbo tying and then passing Gordie Howe on the all-time assists leaderboard?

Oh, just this speedster from Staten Island who to that point in the campaign had registered less on the scoresheet than a sub-5 earthquake does for sleeping residents across the Bay.

Labanc cuts a perplexing figure in the paradigm of the Sharks organization.

He’s a sixth-round pick; So, in many ways, he’s exceeded expectations just being a consistent member of the main roster.

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At the same time, his clear ability belies this draft positioning and leaves you wanting more. (Suiting up next to perhaps the best seventh-rounder in history doesn’t help this cause.) He’s only 23, but this is his third season getting consistent run with the big club.

His speed, stature, and shot seem to be the building blocks of a natural goalscorer. But up till Jan. 16, Labanc had not gotten in on the fun with the offensively rich Sharks.

In 48 games, he’d only found the net four times. From the Jan. 2 to Jan. 15, he looked to be a man forgotten, at least in Pete DeBoer’s rotation: seven contests, all with less than 10:37 spent on the ice. Against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 7? Blink and you’d miss him: just six minutes and fifty-eight seconds.

Hard to believe that disappearing act now. In addition to boosting Thornton further into hockey immortality, Labanc has pumped in seven goals since the aforementioned Jan. 16, three of which were racked up in his first-ever hat trick.

His ice time has risen nearer to the 15-minute mark. That’s right — don’t think Coach hasn’t noticed.

“We’ve had some good conversations with Kevin, and this is the last 30 games of the year,” DeBoer said, per NBC Sports Bay Area. “You have to show that you can contribute and that you can be trusted in critical times as we had to the playoffs. I think he’s trying to prove a point.”

During his multiple dry spells this year, Labanc has not necessarily cost the Sharks wins due to his inability to put pucks in the net. He’s put in admirable effort shifts on the checking line, and San Jose is not often hurting for offensive output.

But DeBoer’s words — and actions — point to Labanc’s performance having a larger impact.

This is a team, with Stanley Cup aspirations, that has already mortgaged large swaths of its future in order to bring in talented players. GM Doug Wilson has stated that he could be shopping for more at the trade deadline — which would mean more picks, more prospects, more future assets being scraped from the Sharks’ coffers.

DeBoer has shown willingness to showcase Labanc when he feels that is merited. Kevin plays well; he’s immediately awarded more ice time, and is often seen skating with dead-eye passers and creative mavens like Joe Thornton.

If Labanc can make these recent outings the norm, and not the exception, he’ll both answer some questions about San Jose’s forward depth, thereby lifting the yoke of high-cost swaps from Wilson’s shoulders, and prove to DeBoer that there’s reason to keep investing in this particular financial institution.

Now, it’s up to Kevin to ensure that his season becomes more than a factoid footnote.

Labanc is open right now, and all Sharks fans should be praying that business hours extend in perpetuity.

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