Matt Nieto will play for the San Jose Sharks this year, of that there’s no doubt, but make no mistake about it: he’s fighting for a spot much in the same way Kevin Labanc is.
Okay, so that’s over the top, but Nieto doesn’t want to play on the fourth line this year because he knows the kind of player he can get stuck with. So his two-goal night, and overall strong play this preseason, will go a long way towards getting him on to the third line this year.
For Labanc, the stakes are obviously quite a bit higher. He picked up two points tonight, including his second goal of the preseason.
This is a really promising goal for Labanc. He gets into the crease and buries a rebound, which is the kind of goal the coaching staff will look for when evaluating his NHL readiness. We’re obviously a pro-Labanc website, but given Meier’s illness it seems he’s got a pretty good shot at making the big squad.
The Sharks’ next preseason game is on Wednesday at home against the Ducks, with what I assume will be a slightly reduced roster. Labanc will almost certainly not be amongst the next round of cuts, and if he keeps this kind of production up I like his chances on sticking around until the beginning of the season.
As for Nieto, he’s taking the opportunity given to him thanks to the World Cup of Hockey. With the big guns away, he’s getting a bigger workload and enjoying some power-play time. So far, the forward has put it to good use. I’m a big fan of Nieto, and think he’s routinely underrated, but it’s nice to see him match his great possession game with some points now and again.
While Meier’s illness is disappointing, it’s opened up the door for Labanc (and others, of course) to get a spot on the roster. I like Labanc’s chances — and the silver lining to all of this is that the young guys are getting more opportunities to show what they can do. We’ll look at it that way for now.