Correction: The original article incorrectly stated the first year of Kevin Labanc’s entry level contract does not kick in unless he has played nine games. Labanc’s ELC has already kicked in as he is not junior eligible. The article has been changed to reflect that.
The Sharks sit in the midst of a three-game losing streak as their offense sits mired in a bit of a slump. San Jose’s shooting percentage is among the worst in the league at 5v5 play (5.34, 28th in the league) and while the team continues to rack up scoring chances the puck hasn’t found the back of the net.
In this situation my advice is almost always patience. The Sharks will turn it around as bounces start to go their way and pucks start to elude hot goaltenders (and also goaltenders that are playing very well at the time). That doesn’t mean the Sharks can’t be better offensively, of course.
So that leads us to the question I posed in the title: Should the Sharks call up Kevin Labanc? My answer: Maybe. Here’s what a more definite answer hinges on.
First, a little on Labanc. He looked great in preseason action and put together a very nice training camp. Since then, he leads the Barracuda with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in six games while playing on the top line with Rourke Chartier and Nikolay Goldobin (who also has 10 points, I should note).
Labanc can play for the Sharks for nine games before his Entry Level Contract kicks in and counts for this year, meaning he could at least get an audition with the big club for a short period. Labanc’s entry level contract is already in play, meaning he can spend as much or as little time with the Sharks as management sees fit. He is not waiver eligible this year, so he can be recalled and reassigned an unlimited number of times.
Timo Meier has yet to score his first professional goal as he works his way back from mono and I don’t expect to see him in San Jose for a while yet, making Labanc the most likely call-up.
Full disclosure: There are certainly people who have seen more of the Barracuda than me (I’ve seen mostly clips and highlights and listened on the radio) so I won’t speak to Labanc’s development to this point. His numbers look good and I like the way he played while he was with the Sharks, so that’s what my opinion is rooted in.
Here’s the deal: If the Sharks insist on scratching Matt Nieto because he can’t score, doesn’t it make sense to insert a player who can? Micheal Haley has performed perfectly fine given his skillset, but he does not provide any more scoring than Nieto does — he provides less.
Haley is averaging 0.618 points per 60 minutes while Nieto sits at 1.369. Let’s note the Sharks have not explicitly said that’s why Haley is getting into the lineup while Nieto sits. It’s very possible that the only reason is Haley’s toughness and willingness to drop the gloves and because of a notable defensive mistake made by Nieto. That’s still a decision I can’t support, but I won’t pretend to know the exact motives.
Regardless, Labanc isn’t a big body but the Sharks really don’t need another big body. Tommy Wingels provides the requisite edge, Joel Ward doesn’t play a soft game and Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl aren’t afraid to use their bodies to make plays. Let’s stop pretending the Sharks have a size problem — they don’t; if anything they have a size surplus.
Let’s bring this full circle. Labanc may not be “ready” to play in the NHL, but I don’t believe bringing him up would hurt his development. My rationale is pretty simple: If the Sharks won’t play Nieto, give Labanc a chance to take his job. Icing Haley is both worse for the team and robs Labanc of an opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level.
What’s the worst that can happen? The Sharks are already riding a cold streak. Maybe calling up Labanc will provide the jolt of energy that San Jose is looking for. Maybe it won’t. But it’s a low risk move that provides tons of upside if Labanc is ready to go. Why not give it a shot?