Kevin Labanc enters Wednesday’s game against the Kings with the highest shooting percentage (15.9) on the San Jose Sharks amongst players with at least five games played. That high percentage has helped Labanc to seven goals in his first 31 games, a nifty 0.23 goals per game rate.
Can he sustain it? Obviously he can sustain it — he could score on his next 100 shots, theoretically. What we really want to know is if Labanc is going to be a high-percentage shooter in the NHL and if we have enough information to make an educated guess yet.
It’s still too early to know for sure where Labanc’s future in the NHL lies. With not even a half season under his belt, we’ll need to bring in his AHL and Canadian Junior scoring rates into the picture to get a better sense of how good a shooter he is. Let’s start by taking a look at some advanced stats at the NHL level, specifically how many scoring chances he creates compared to his San Jose teammates.
Labanc checks in at 14th on the Sharks with 1.98 individual scoring chances for per 60 minutes (not impressive). Part of that is because of where he takes his shots from: far away. Take a look at the image below from corsica.hockey to see what I mean.
The density spread on the right is where Labanc’s shots on goal come from in all situations. You can see that a lot of his shots come from the left (for some reason the image is mirrored and I’m not really sure why). That makes sense if you try to remember where you’ve seen Labanc shoot; as Logan Couture enters the zone he dishes to his left and Labanc drives a shot on net. Compare that to Tomas Hertl’s chart from the last two years.
Hertl takes a lot more shots from the slot area. On one hand, more of these shots are likely to turn into goals; on the other, if Labanc is an elite shooter he may need fewer shots to reach a similar number of goals. So let’s take a look at his scoring numbers throughout his career courtesy of NHL.com. Those who have followed Labanc since he was drafted by the Sharks already know what’s coming.
Labanc scored 35 points in 65 games in his 17-year-old season as a rookie with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League and went on to triple that by scoring 107 in 68 games. The rookie wrapped up his OHL career by scoring a whopping 127 points in 65 games as a 19 year old to finish his junior career as a 1.36 point per game player.
When he joined the Barracuda this season, the party didn’t stop. He scored 13 points in eight games and earned himself a call to the NHL and hasn’t looked back since ... right? While there have at least been light rumbles about Timo Meier since his call up to the NHL, there hasn’t been so much as a peep about Labanc. This might be why:
That’s Labanc’s points per game on a rolling basis. Not only has Labanc been pretty darn consistent, his five-game scoring drought notwithstanding, but he’s seen his scoring rate rise since joining the team. That’s a good way to endear yourself to a fanbase — especially one that has dealt with a struggling offense all year.
Labanc may (and heck, probably won’t) shoot at more than 15 percent his entire career but shooting will always be a strength in his toolkit. San Jose has a lot of great passers, so bringing in a great shooter is a welcome addition to the Sharks’ arsenal.