Kevin Labanc Expects to Assume Bigger Role With Sharks Next Season

Kevin Labanc was a huge part of the Sharks' come-from-behind Game 7 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights back in April, tallying a goal and three assists when Team Teal buried four power-play markers in just as many minutes. 

With as big as that moment was in this year's playoffs, it's really no surprise the young forward has revisited that game a couple of times during the offseason.

"I'd be lying if I said I hadn't watched highlights of that game a couple of times," Labanc told the media on a conference call Monday. "People ask me about it every other week I think."

That four-point effort was just one instance that highlighted how Labanc transformed into a difference-maker for the Sharks this past season. Now that he has re-signed to a one-year contract that will keep him in teal, he's looking to capitalize on his accomplishments from the last campaign -- and even take on some leadership responsibilities.

"I see myself taking on a bigger role," the Staten Island, New York native said. "I think last year was a good stepping stone for me to kind of prove to myself that I can handle a top-six role. I'm looking forward to next season and looking forward to being one of the top players on the team."

That's a big step for the 23-year-old winger. Through the first 41 games of the 2018-19 season, Labanc struggled with consistency and defensive mistakes and closed out 2018 with 24 points (four goals, 20 assists) and a minus-5 rating. But he buckled down and worked to right the ship, ending the last 41 games of the regular season with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) and at a plus-4.

Even before that four-point third period in the playoffs, Labanc was already showing his ability to step up and be a big presence for San Jose.

"He grew his game last year,"  Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "He tried to become a 200-foot player and be trusted by our coaches. So I think this is an exciting year for him."

There is extra room for Labanc to step up and take on more responsibility with how free agency has reshaped the team. With Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, and Gustav Nyquist signing with different teams in free agency, San Jose needs its emerging young players to fill in bigger roles, and Labanc is one of the players expected to make that leap.

After the improvements he made last season, he seems ready to accept that responsibility.

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"That's what I love about him, that he believes in himself," Wilson said. "We got a glimpse of him doing something special in that Vegas game. When you see somebody doing something like that under a pressure situation, you know there are some high-end capabilities there."

"I'm just looking forward to the enhanced role in the upcoming season," Labanc said. "I believe my best hockey is ahead of me and I can't wait to get back on the ice with the boys."

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