Sharks veteran Joe Thornton recently commented on the depth of the team’s lineup, pointing out that a different player can step up in any game and lead the way.
On Saturday night in Edmonton, that player was Thornton’s linemate, Kevin Labanc.
The 23-year-old winger has been playing a confident game since the Sharks returned from their bye week, being reunited on a line with Thornton and Marcus Sorensen. His game reached new heights against the Oilers as he tallied his first career hat trick and led the way for San Jose to a 5-2 win.
“First one – that’s awesome to see,” Joe Pavelski said after the game. “They were nice goals too. He shot the puck really well tonight. Quick, accurate, hard.”
First career hat trick for Kevin LaBanc!! pic.twitter.com/dpjIlHQkhq— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) February 10, 2019
All three of Labanc’s goals were, indeed, nice to watch. From his tricky snap shot to open up scoring in the first frame to his nifty wrister on a second-period power play and his nice shot to split the defense in the third. On a night where the Sharks got contributions from different parts of the lineup, Labanc’s performance was a standout.
“He made some good plays out there and that was big for us,” Pavelski continued. “When we’ve come in here, we have guys that step up and have big nights. Kevin had a good one for us tonight.”
Labanc went a month without finding the back of the net, going through a drought between December 16 and January 16. He has since been contributing to the offense on almost a nightly basis. Since the team returned from their break on February 2, he’s registered six points (four goals, two assists) in four games.
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer contributed Labanc’s recent success to putting in a lot of time and evolving how his work ethic.
“Kevin’s a kid that has worked at his game since I got here, since four years ago at development camp,” DeBoer said. “He’s learned how to work. He’s learned from the Joe Thorntons and the Joe Pavelskis and the Brent Burnses of the world to put in extra time and take care of your body.
"He’s changed everything about his habits. (You) get rewarded for that.”
Having one of those veterans as a linemate doesn’t hurt either.
“I think playing with Joe Thornton helps,” DeBoer said after Thornton tied Gordie Howe on the NHL all-time assists list with his set-up of Labanc’s third goal on the evening. “You can never underestimate the importance of a guy like that with you and talking to you all the time.”
Above all, Labanc’s performance on Saturday night is a positive sign for the Sharks as regular season games wind down. San Jose needs contributions from all parts of the lineup on a nightly basis. In Edmonton, Labanc showed he can answer that call.
“We’ve had some good conversations with Kevin, and this is the last 30 games of the year,” DeBoer said. “You have to show that you can contribute and that you can be trusted in critical times as we had to the playoffs. I think he’s trying to prove a point.”