Kevin Labanc scored the overtime winner against the Canucks in the Sharks’ first preseason game and the talented scorer will be a staple in San Jose’s offense in the years to come. The question is which San Jose team Labanc will start the season with after three very successful years with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.
Labanc will very likely begin the 2016-17 season with the Barracuda and barring a string of injuries will stick there for most of the year. But a strong showing at training camp so far and the ongoing illness of Timo Meier opens up the possibility that Labanc will make the Sharks straight out of camp.
I’ve gotten a few emails asking about this, and while I think it’s a long shot I figure it can’t hurt to at least evaluate the case in this slowish portion of the season. First, let’s look at what Labanc did in junior.
While with the Colts, Labanc raised his point total every season. In his first season he scored just 35 points in 65 games before absolutely exploding onto the scene in 2014-15 with 107 points in 68 games. He raised that to 127 points in 65 games last season, coming ever so close to averaging two points a game.
That’s quite good, there’s no doubt about it. But even in the best junior league in the world (which the OHL certainly is) those numbers don’t tell us everything about what Labanc will be in the NHL. In his first NHL action, albeit against a very weak Vancouver lineup, Labanc scored once and had an assist while putting four shots on goal and delivering two hits.
His possession numbers were even more impressive. He finished with a +19 corsi differential, allowing only two shot attempts against the entire night for a 91.3 corsi for percentage. It should be noted that Labanc didn’t start any shifts in the defensive side of the ice, but regardless that’s damn impressive.
In addition to his ability, we have to look at roster space. Right now the Sharks have 52 players on their training camp roster, 30 of which are forwards. The Sharks will (probably) carry 14 forwards, which means there are still a whopping 16 cuts to make — so we’ll work at this the other way. Here are the For Sure On The Roster Forwards:
- Joe Thornton
- Joe Pavelski
- Logan Couture
- Joonas Donskoi
- Tomas Hertl
- Patrick Marleau
- Melker Karlsson
- Matt Nieto
- Chris Tierney
- Joel Ward
That leaves four players to pick from the following list of guys that stand a chance at making the roster:
- Mikkel Boedker
- Ryan Carpenter
- Nikolay Goldobin
- Barclay Goodrow
- Micheal Haley
- Kevin Labanc
- John McCarthy
- Timo Meier
- Tommy Wingels
From that list, my guess is Boedker, Goodrow and Wingels are all likely to make the cut. That leaves Meier, Labanc, Goldobin and Goodrow as the four most likely to win that final spot. Entering camp I’d have put my money on Meier, but his illness has almost certainly set him back a bit -- even if he joins the Sharks early in the season, his odds of starting with the big club have taken a hit.
Even if we discount Meier, I figure Labanc is a longshot. Goodrow is most likely to snag that fourth spot, but that would at least make Labanc one of the first-to-call-up players once the season begins. So the short version is: Labanc has maybe a 15 percent chance of making the Sharks to start the season — but that’s 14 percent more than I’d have figured a week ago.