GLENDALE, Az. – Rookie forward Kevin Labanc is making his case to stick with the Sharks after their road trip concludes on Saturday.
After his role had been diminishing somewhat throughout his first four games in which he didn’t get on the scoresheet, Labanc was handed a prime opportunity on Thursday in St. Louis when he was slotted on the left side of the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Although he felt he was partially to blame on the Blues’ first score by Jaden Schwartz, when he was pressured by a pinching Alex Pietrangelo in the defensive zone, Labanc got it back for his club in the second period when he notched his first career NHL goal.
He finished with two shots, including a powerful one-timer from the circle in the third period that nearly re-tied the game, in a career-high 15:48 of ice time.
“I felt like I’ve made a good showing,” Labanc said of his time with the Sharks so far.
Prior to the Blues game, coach Pete DeBoer gave it the old “one game at a time” response when asked if Labanc could stick around for a little while.
Injuries could play a role, of course. Tomas Hertl’s health is now in question after he had to return to the Bay Area for an MRI, and if he’s going to miss some time, that increases Labanc’s odds for remaining with the Sharks.
The speed is always an adjustment for players that go from juniors to the AHL, and from the AHL to the NHL. Other than noticing the increased pace, what has Labanc learned through his first five games?
“Details. Details are so major in this league,” he said. “I made a mistake [on the first Blues goal], it hit off my skate and next thing you know it was in the back of our net. Just little things like that you have to be cautious of. You can’t make mistakes otherwise they will create a chance or even end up in the back of your net. One thing that I’ll take is just attention to detail.”
After notching 39 goals and a league-leading 127 points in juniors last season, and posting four goals and 10 points in his first six games in the AHL, his new linemate encouraged him to shoot the puck.
“Sometimes I think [when] you get a new linemate everyone wants to be the nice guy and pass and set somebody up, and you forget how much you just need to shoot the puck sometimes to create,” Pavelski said. “I think he did a good job with it last night.”
“He’s a smart player. He has a lot of instincts as far as turning a few [opposing] pucks over, and where it’s going to be. It was no different last night, he found some open ice at times, whether it was pulling off the net and getting a shot, or just being around the puck. It was good to see."