With the recent stride of success for the San Jose Sharks, all systems are moving forward effectively with an elevated performance on offense and defense to kick off the second half.
Coming off a career-high 40 point campaign in the 2017-2018 season, San Jose Sharks right winger Kevin Labanc held high hopes entering his third year in the National Hockey League.
Head Coach Peter DeBoer started Labanc on the second line with Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture and earned a spot on the top power play unit on the opening day of the season. Labanc tallied seven points in his first ten games, including two helpers on the man-advantage.
This strong start presented great promise to the Labanc’s 2018-2019 campaign, however, the train has fallen off the tracks as of late and the holidays have brought a dry spell to his offensive production.
Labanc tallied just three points, all assists, in the last 12 games. Taking it one step further, Labanc has not cashed in a goal since a lopsided 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on December 22.
However, it comes even worse. That goal in Chitown came on the power play and was the sixth goal of what was a game already wrapped up in the books late in the third period.
The last even-strength goal for No. 62 in teal was November 15 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s nearly four months ago.
Labanc is known for ‘going to the bank’, but the banker has lost its cash flow with a reduced role in the last month. The native of Brooklyn, New York fell down the ranks to the Sharks fourth line with Melker Karlsson and Barclay Goodrow.
In addition to his role on the bottom-six, Labanc also stepped down from the top power play unit with an electric Erik Karlsson taking over at the right point. The Sharks can’t go wrong with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson as a two-man wrecking crew on the No. 1 power play. Labanc does have eleven power play points in 45 games, which is a slightly greater trend compared to last year (17 power play points in 77 games).
On the flip side, while the scoring may be down, the physicality and intensity of the fourth line matchups seem to suit Labanc nicely as he seeks to add on to his season totals (four goals, 21 assists. He’s generated a 61.6% of his time on the ice with offensive zone starts at even-strength, which is 5% higher than his career mark.
Furthermore, Labanc is a sneaky sniper from the right circle. When aiming at goaltenders, he tends to pick corners and soft spots to create highlight-reel goals that spark momentum for his teammates.
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With about half of the games still remaining, there is plenty of time for Labanc to find his rhythm this season. However, there lies one big question with the trade deadline looming closely: will Kevin Labanc stay a Shark?
The Sharks are going to be buyers and speedy, veteran presence on the offense is what the Sharks could add for a deeper Stanley Cup playoff run. With that in mind, the Sharks do not have the high-level prospects for another big deal after the Karlsson blockbuster trade of the summer. General manager Doug Wilson could have Labanc’s name on the hot seat as his true potential has yet to take form.
Labanc is 23 years old. He’s recorded 23 goals and 85 points in 178 games in the NHL, which accumulates to an average of .48 points/game. That’s solid for a third-year player who worked his way through the AHL system. With his potential, the Sharks could put him at the forefront of a major trade come February 25. An ideal target for the deadline could be an Artemi Panarin or a Mark Stone type of player with a good mix of experience and expertise in the league.
Labanc has time to get back into the swing of things, however, his time is running out. As the San Jose Sharks play critical games down the stretch of the season, the front office has to decide whether or not keeping Labanc or shipping him out is the right move for the right step forward.