It’s one day into the 2017-2018 NHL season and in a way too early prediction I really like what I saw out of Kevin Labanc last night. The 2nd year vet and 171 overall draft pick in the 2014 entry draft is starting the season on the top line alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. He started last season in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda where he scored 19 points across his first 19 games. He was promoted up to the big leagues where he finished with 8 goals and 20 points across 55 games.
Well, one game into the 2017-2018 season, Kevin is already 25% towards his goal total from last year. The reason he stood out wasn’t JUST the 2 goals that he scored last night but the eyeball test. The Sharks are a team full of talented (albeit older) passers and shooters but Kevin is all too willing to provide what they lack, a solid presence in front of the net. While Thornton and Pavelski were like Sharks circling the perimeter of the offensive zone with the puck (pardon the puns) Lebanc stood in front of Brian Elliot blocking his view and ready to turn and bury any rebounds that came out.
Just a few minutes after barely missing a back door shot for a goal Kevin got a second chance and buried it with this beauty late in the first.
See how well he blocks Elliots view not to mention the adept hand eye coordination to bat the puck out of the air into the net.
He wasn’t done yet, later in the first period Dale Weis turned and tried to fire the puck out of the zone and in stepped Kevin from the point to pick the puck off, he stepped in about 3 strides before ripping a slap shot from just above the circle for a clean goal. One period into the season and he already had 2 goals and had he not wiffed on the first shot earlier in the period he could have scored a natural hat trick one period into the season.
What I saw in the 2nd and 3rd periods reaffirmed what he presented in the first. He didn’t score but he kept firing the puck, battling in front of the net and he appears to be a perfect complement for the top line. He netted 3 penalties (one in each period: Interference, Slashing and Tripping) which I imagine the coach will not be too happy about) depending on how your team is run this could help or hurt your team (most of my leagues award Hits and Blocked Shots and punish teams with high PIM).
Looking at his stat line for the game:
2 Goals (led the team)
0 plus/minus (tied for lead)
5 shots on goal (tied for lead with Logan Couture and Brent Burns)
3 penalties/ 6 PIM (led the team if your team awards those)
0 giveaways (tied for lead)
1 Faceoff Win/1 Faceoff Lost – 50% (5th on the team)
here is where it gets even more impressive:
13:12 Time on Ice (15th best on team) he lead the team in most stats while 15 players had more ice time.
2:18 Time on Power Play (9th best on team) – you better believe if he keeps leading in these stats he will get bumped up for more time on the power play ahead of Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward.
It’s not uncommon to see players dwindle after a strong start but everything I saw both statistically and watching the game showed me that he could be a sleeper for this year in quite a few categories.