One of the biggest surprises of last season came in the form of a 2014 sixth round draft pick.
Kevin Labanc started the season with the San Jose Barracuda. The former OHL scoring leader put up ten points in six games in the AHL, making him an easy choice for a call up to the big club before a six game road trip in November.
In total, Labanc played 55 games with the Sharks last season. He slotted into the top six, spending a lot of time on the second line with Logan Couture. But where he showed his capabilities best was on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. In those 55 games, Labanc tallied 20 points and finished sixth in primary points/60 on the team.
Labanc was held out of playoffs for the Sharks, but returned to the Barracuda for their Calder Cup run. He posted 19 points in 19 regular season games, and added seven points in 15 playoff games. For being in and out of the lineup, foregoing a chance to build chemistry with his line-mates, that’s pretty impressive.
The Sharks face unique issues this season, following the departure of Patrick Marleau. Labanc offers a pretty good solution. He’s proven himself capable of being a top six winger and will be a major asset to a restructured power play. There’s no reason Labanc wouldn’t be on the opening night roster.
Name: Kevin Labanc
Age (as of 9/9/17): 21
Position: Right Wing
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
2016-17 Team: San Jose Sharks/San Jose Barracuda
Where he’ll (probably) be next year: San Jose Sharks
What we like
Labanc adapted quickly to NHL play and fits into the top six easily. He’s experienced on the power play and is able to drive play at 5-on-5.
What to improve on
Labanc took 22 penalty minutes last season - not a massive amount of penalties, but the cause is more concerning than the total number. Many of the penalties could be accurately described as rookie mistakes. Hopefully that’s something that will fall away with a little more experience.
Labanc’s first career multi-goal game came in December, when he got the better of Connor McDavid and won it for the Sharks in overtime. What a beauty.