Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We continue with Kevin Labanc.
When projecting the Sharks' lines entering training camp, four of the six spots on the top two lines can already be written down in ink. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl will each center one of them, with Timo Meier and Evander Kane each flanking one of them on one side.
The two remaining spots, previously occupied by Joe Pavelski and Gustav Nyquist, are now up for grabs after both left in free agency.
Someone is going to play on the right side of the scoring lines, and Kevin Labanc is as good of a bet to do it as anyone else on the team. Assuming he does, Labanc will be in prime position to replace a hefty chunk of all the goals the Sharks lost from last season -- more than 20 percent of last season's franchise-best total.
Nearly all of the reasons to expect a greater offensive output from Labanc in the season ahead are related to increased opportunity. Labanc has increased his scoring total from 20 to 40 to 56 points in each of his three seasons thus far, despite averaging between 13:41 and 14:21 average minutes of ice time per game over that span. With Labanc earmarked for a spot in the top six, it would stand to reason that his minutes will increase, and so too will his scoring output.
Labanc became a mainstay on the power play last season, and most assuredly will retain that status this coming year. His 18 power-play assists were tied for the second-most on the team and ranked first among all forwards last year, as his passing ability jumped to a new level. Moving forward, though, some of those passes are likely to turn into shots, as Pavelski and his 12 power-play goals and nearly three minutes per game with the man advantage are no longer around. Considering Labanc is blessed with one of the best shots on the team, it would not be surprising to see San Jose attempt to make him more of a focal point of the power-play attack.
Speaking of Labanc's shot, he did post a career-best shot percentage last season (13.1 percent), but there's no reason to believe he couldn't improve upon that further. Remember, he won't turn 24 years old until December. And even if Labanc were simply to repeat that same shot percentage this coming year, he'd likely end up with more goals as a result of attempting more shots. In fact, it's entirely possible he could end up with more goals even with a worse shot percentage.
It's not rocket science. Pavelski is gone, and Labanc is the odds-on favorite for the greatest minutes increase of any forward on the roster, or at least those in contention for the top six. He has got an electric shot, and he should be in a position to utilize it more frequently. The Sharks might not replace all of the goals they lost in the offseason, but Labanc is certainly capable of helping to fill the void.