SAN JOSE – With so many Sharks veterans still at the World Cup, and many more sitting out the first preseason game, Tuesday night was the perfect opportunity for one of the young prospects to step up and make an impression.
Kevin Labanc was that guy. The 20-year-old forward set up Barclay Goodrow’s game-tying goal in the second period, finding his linemate in front of the net, and scored one himself in overtime to help the Sharks to a 3-2 win. He played just over 15 minutes, including some power play and penalty kill time, and had four shots on goal.
“It’s hard to find guys that create offense, and this guy creates offense,” Pete DeBoer said. “When he’s on the ice, offense is getting created. That’s something that everybody is looking for.”
Labanc was drafted by the Sharks in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft out of Barrie (OHL). He was coming off of a season in which he had a modest 35 points in 65 games.
Since that 2013-14 campaign, though, the Staten Island native has taken off. He tallied 107 points (31g, 76a) in 68 games in 2014-15, and last season led all of the OHL in scoring with 127 points (39g, 88a) in 65 games. He was named as the best playmaker and best penalty killer in an OHL coaches poll.
He’s not the biggest guy, listed at what is probably a generous five-foot-11, 185 pounds, but his skill is undeniable. Barracuda coach Roy Sommer, who had Labanc late in the AHL last season (he played just one playoff game), offered this high praise at last week’s rookie camp:
“Here’s a kid that really turned it up the last two years. Why not give him a look? He led the OHL in scoring, which I don’t think was by accident. Natural scorers are hard to find,” Sommer said.
“He has a lot of patience with the puck. Most guys when the rebound comes they’re putting it right back at the goalie, and he’ll wait and kind of look for a hole, and then – boom. It’s in the net. He’s like a [Joe] Pavelski, he kind of has that knack for the net.”
Labanc spent most of Tuesday’s game on a line with Goodrow and Ryan Carpenter, and is still a long shot to make the team out of camp. Starting the season with the Barracuda makes the most sense for a player that needs to gain some experience against professional competition. He’ll keep giving it all he’s got, though.
“Whether [it] be scoring goals or making simple plays, blocking shots – I’m here to make the team. It’s as simple as that,” Labanc said.
DeBoer said: “We’re going to keep working on rounding out his game, and where he has to work on that is yet to be determined, but it was a good start for him.”
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Goalies Troy Grosenick and Mantas Armalis split time in net and didn’t see a whole lot of action, as Vancouver managed just 15 shots in the game. Grosenick allowed one goal on eight shots, while Armalis stopped six of seven.
“I thought both guys were good. They were solid,” DeBoer said. “Sometimes those are tougher games to play than the games where you get 30-40 shots and you’re into it. I thought they both stayed sharp regardless of the fact that didn’t have a ton of work. Made enough saves to give us a chance to win.”