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Kevin Labanc on Being USA Hockey’s Last Pick, Contract Regrets

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Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks
Credit: Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire

Kevin Labanc is used to being discounted.

When he was 15, he was the last player picked for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. When he was 18, 170 players were picked ahead of him in the 2014 NHL Draft, until the San Jose Sharks called his name in the sixth round. Last summer, it was Labanc who gave the team a discount, signing a one-year, $1 million dollar contract after a 56-point campaign.

But overlook Labanc at your own peril: “It’s my biggest attribute, it’s my work ethic. That hunger to strive for better, that’s the one thing that kept me going.”

That attitude hasn’t changed after four improbable years in the NHL. According to Jokke Nevalainen, only about eight percent of all sixth-round picks play over 100 NHL games. At 284 games and counting, Labanc has played more games than any fifth, sixth, or seventh-round pick from his draft year.

“Even for me now, it’s never-ending. You have to keep developing yourself,” Labanc said. “Because there’s always somebody else who’s doing it.”

San Jose Hockey Now caught up with Labanc, who’s back in his native Staten Island, this morning. The 24-year-winger talked about being one of the smallest guys in the USA Hockey room as a teenager, his favorite Dale Hawerchuk saying, why the San Jose Sharks season went south, and if he has any regrets about his below-market contract.

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San Jose Sharks

BREAKING: Sharks Are Talking to Conor Sheary

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Credit: Michael Miller (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When free agency began on October 9th, the question was, “Who would the San Jose Sharks sign?”

After almost two weeks of relative inactivity — besides adding familiar faces Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto and losing franchise icon Joe Thornton — the question became, “What’s Doug Wilson doing?”

What’s Doug Wilson Doing with Sharks Forwards?

San Jose Hockey Now has good news for Sharks fans: Wilson is still active in free agency. So who’s he looking at — Conor Sheary, Erik Haula, or Mikael Granlund? We’ve got the scoop!

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San Jose Sharks

Scouts Have Consensus Choice on Best Bottom-Pairing D for Sharks

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Credit: Michael Miller (CC BY-SA 4.0), kylewagaman (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Doug Wilson spelled it out last week — and if it wasn’t clear, player agents know too.

The San Jose Sharks have “five NHL-quality d-men” and need another one, probably a right-hander. I would also presume, considering their cap situation, that they’re also looking for blueliners who would accept around the league minimum.

Why a righty? After all, don’t the Sharks have Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns?

However, after Karlsson and Burns, they have Nick DeSimone, Nicolas Meloche, and Ryan Merkley, three right-handed defenders with a combined zero NHL games played. Granted, Mario Ferraro and Jake Middleton can slide to their off-side, but an NHL-quality RHD makes a lot of sense here.

I can say that a couple player agents have pitched the San Jose Sharks on their NHL-proven UFA right side defensemen clients…and haven’t heard back.

So let’s evaluate the candidates: Will San Jose sign one of these 11 cost-friendly right-siders? And who might fit best with Ferraro?

I asked three scouts about Jan Rutta, Yannick Weber, Trevor Daley, Madison Bowey, Korbinian Holzer, Deryk Engelland, Tim Heed, Michael Stone, Slater Koekkoek, Cody Goloubef, and Christian Folin.

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San Jose Sharks

A Scout’s Take on Duclair, Athanasiou & Other Non-Qualified Free Agents

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“Pretty surprising.”

That’s what an NHL scout told me about the number of talented RFAs not qualified on Wednesday who became UFAs.

Obviously, a flat cap and pandemic-related revenue concerns played some role.

On the other hand, some of these RFAs are more sizzle than steak.

“He’s an empty player.”

Which freshly-christened UFA — Anthony Duclair, Andreas Athanasiou, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Cousins, or Dominik Kahun — was this scout talking about?

The scout also added extra thoughts about Brendan Perlini and Troy Stecher.

This, by the way, concludes my San Jose Sharks free agency preview — besides the aforementioned UFAs, I received exclusive reports about 24 other UFAs from assorted NHL scouts.

Curious what the scouts think about Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, Erik Haula, Evgenii Dadonov, Carl Soderberg, Jesper Fast, Vladislav Namestinikov, Josh Leivo, Tyler Toffoli, Bobby Ryan, Michael Grabner, Kyle Turris, Alex Galchenyuk, Cody Eakin, Colin Wilson, Conor Sheary, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jimmy Vesey, Mattias Janmark, Michael Frolik, Pat Maroon, Tyler Ennis, Vladimir Sobotka, or Wayne Simmonds?

You won’t find this much detail anywhere else!

Scouts Talk Dadonov, Granlund, Smith & Other Top UFA Forwards

Scouts Talk Sharks & Bargain UFA Forwards

Scouts on How Potential Buyout UFAs Would Fit Sharks

A Scout’s Argument for Bobby Ryan

A Scout’s Argument Against Signing Michael Grabner

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