In Season Opener, Labanc Embodies Promise and Growing Pains Ahead

On the same night former Shark Patrick Marleau scored two goals in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut, the Sharks were reminded of the promise, and growing pains, to come this season. No player encapsulated that in San Jose's 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night moreso than winger Kevin Labanc.

On the one hand, the 21-year-old scored two goals in a game for just the second time in his NHL career. He also matched his career-high with 5 shots on goal, tying Brent Burns and Logan Couture for the team lead.  

On the other, he set a more ignominious milestone, and committed a career-high three penalties. The Flyers took advantage, scoring on each of the ensuing power play opportunities.

As the Sharks look to replace Marleau, there will be nights where they frustrate you. As the Sharks look to integrate Labanc, Timo Meier, and other emerging prospects, there will be nights where they dazzle you. And there will be nights like Wednesday where they do both.

That's all to be expected as the Sharks attempt to rebuild their roster on the fly. It's also an expectation the team and fans should not lose sight of.

If Labanc, Meier, and others are to blossom into core pieces, they must be given room to grow, and allowed to make mistakes. Head coach Peter DeBoer did just that on Wednesday, as he played Labanc while the Sharks pressed for the tying goal in the game's dying moments, despite his penalties.

In previous seasons, those penalties may have been enough to keep Labanc on the bench, or even ensure an assignment to the minor leagues. But if the loss to Philadelphia showed anything, it's that this year will not be much like those that preceded it.

After all, the San Jose lost its opener for the first time since 2009, and began a season without Marleau on the team for the first time since the Clinton administration. The Sharks are swimming in uncharted waters, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Labanc and the rest of the young core won't be able to develop unless they're allowed to navigate those waters, and given the necessary leeway to do so. That didn't result in a Sharks win on Wednesday, but it did result in a vital learning experience for the second-year forward.

Ultimately, that growth is what's most important this early in the season.

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