How Kevin Labanc will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season


How Kevin Labanc will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

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.

[RELATED: Sharks goalie Jones unveils cyborg-inspired mask for season]

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.

Players who will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void in 2019-20

Timo Meier

How Sharks' Marcus Sorensen, Radim Simek are progressing from injuries

How Sharks' Marcus Sorensen, Radim Simek are progressing from injuries

The Sharks haven't lost since adding Patrick Marleau to their lineup last Thursday, and they could get another boost on the wing Wednesday. 

Marcus Sorensen fully participated in Tuesday's practice, skating with Joe Thornton and Barclay Goodrow on San Jose's third line, according to reporters in attendance. Sorensen could play Wednesday night against the surging Carolina Hurricanes. 

Sorensen missed the Sharks' last three games with an upper-body injury. The Swedish winger left San Jose's Oct. 5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the second period after crashing into the end boards. 

The 27-year-old scored a career-high 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) last season, primarily playing alongside veteran center Joe Thornton on the Sharks' third line. The pair played fewer than 250 5-on-5 minutes without one another, and San Jose outscored opponents 36-30 with the two on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

The Sharks have only scored 13 goals in six games this season, so Sorensen's return -- on top of Marleau's integration into the lineup -- should help San Jose's offense. The team also entered Tuesday tied for fifth in goals against (22), but it might be a little longer before they receive a corresponding boost on the blue line. 

[RELATED: Marleau thanks Sharks fans for such a warm welcome back]

Defenseman Radim Simek, who remains on injured reserve and has yet to return to the Sharks lineup after undergoing knee surgery in March, skated after practice with fellow injured blue-liner Dalton Prout on Tuesday. General manager Doug Wilson told reporters via a team spokesperson that Simek has not experienced a setback, but is not practicing with the team in order to focus on the areas he needs to address in his rehab. It's possible Simek rejoins the team ahead of their five-game road trip beginning in Buffalo against the Sabres on Oct. 22.

The Sharks compiled a 29-9-3 record with Simek in the lineup last season, and San Jose allowed lower rates of shot attempts, shots and chances with the Czech defenseman on the ice at 5-on-5 than when he wasn't. Including the playoffs and the start of this season, the Sharks are just 15-21-1 in Simek's absence. 

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau is home. For the first time since returning to the Sharks, Marleau skated in front of the home fans at SAP Center on Sunday night. 

As you might guess, it was an emotional scene for both Marleau and the Sharks faithful. The 40-year-old couldn't help but let out a few tears when fans erupted at the sight of him on the jumbotron in the first period of a 3-1 win over the Flames

On Monday, Marleau took to Twitter through his wife Christina's account to thank Sharks fans for such a warm welcome back to The Tank.

[RELATED: Patrick Marleau left lasting mark on Maple Leafs]

The Sharks, who dropped their first four games this season, have now won two straight since signing Marleau to a one-year contract on Oct. 8. He already has three points -- two goals and an assist -- in the two victories.

Marleau spent the first 19 seasons of his 22-year NHL career with the Sharks before he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2017-18 season. He's San Jose's all-time leader in games played (1,495), goals (510) and points (1,085).