Given their respective scouting reports, you may have thought Thursday night's box score mixed up Kevin Labanc and Joe Thornton’s final stat lines.
Labanc, the supposed sniper, finished with three assists and just one goal -- the game-winner in overtime against the Vancouver Canucks. Thornton, the alleged assists man, scored two goals and picked up a single assist.
What shouldn’t come as a surprise is that both players did significant damage on the power play. Thornton’s long been an elite player with an opponent (or two) sitting in the penalty box, and Labanc’s emerging as one.
Only five players that have played a minimum of 50 minutes on the power play have scored points at a higher rate there than Labanc (9.19 points per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey). He’s not padding his stats with secondary assists, either, as only the same number has scored primary points at a higher rate (7.15 per 60).
He’s in elite company, as the five players that score primary points on the power play at a higher rate are James Van Riemdsyk, Blake Wheeler, Brock Boeser, Filip Forsberg, and Steven Stamkos. Plus, only two players are picking up primary assists at a higher rate: Wheeler and Josh Bailey, the NHL’s assists leader entering Friday.
Perhaps most impressively, Labanc’s been productive in fairly limited minutes. He’s only seventh on the Sharks in total ice time on the power play. He has also played the fewest minutes of any player in the top 10 in primary scoring rate, nearly 18 fewer minutes than the next closest player.
Only three Sharks have scored more power play points than Labanc, and they’ve all played at least 40 more minutes on the power play. Thornton’s the only player with more primary power play points than Labanc, and he’s nearly doubled (110.73 minutes) the second-year forward’s ice time (58.78).
The 22-year-old’s been a pivotal part of the Sharks’ resurgent power play, which has now scored in each of the last seven games. Labanc’s assisted on four of San Jose’s last six power play goals, including two of three on Thursday.
Labanc has faced his fair share of adversity this season, breaking a 23-game goalless drought against Vancouver and spending a brief stint in the AHL with the Barracuda. Now, Labanc’s carved out a niche, and has established himself as a top playmaker on what has become one of the league’s best power plays.
The Sharks may have expected him to do so with his shot, rather than his passing ability, but they’ll surely take it either way.