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Sharks Counting on Labanc to Come Back ‘Big Time’

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Credit: AP Photo/Jim McIsaac

Kevin Labanc knows.

Three goals and three assists in 21 games is not good enough. Three straight seasons out of the playoffs is not good enough. All this, at $4.725 million dollars AAV until 2024 is not good enough.

Labanc hopes that starting this weekend, he can be a big part of a San Jose Sharks’ renaissance.

Labanc has been out for the last three months with a dislocated shoulder, suffered against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 11. He’s been skating for a while, but after surgery, was finally cleared for contact earlier this week. He’s seeing a specialist in Los Angeles on Thursday and is expected to get the all-clear for a possible return to action this Saturday versus the Stars.

Labanc to Have Shoulder Surgery, Will Miss About 3 Months

That will give Labanc 15 games to prove to himself, the San Jose Sharks, and the NHL that he shouldn’t be judged solely on his slow start this season.

“You want to make sure that you’re showing something and showing the young guys the ropes a little bit, the right way to play,” Labanc said in his first media availability since his injury. “For yourself as well, know that you can compete at this level and be a big factor in this team winning.”

One thing that Labanc should be sure about, he’s got the talent. He scored 56 points as a 23-year-old in 2018-19, and even over the last two seasons, both considered down years, he’s averaged half a point a game.

“The one thing that you can’t teach about Kevin is he can put the puck in the back of the net,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner acknowledged. He said that he’s hoping that Labanc re-establishes himself as a top-six forward and a power play fixture over the next month.

One teammate that Labanc can draw inspiration in this quest is Timo Meier. They grew up together in the San Jose Sharks organization – Labanc was drafted in the sixth round in the 2014 NHL Draft, Meier in the first round the next year. Both enjoyed breakouts in 2018-19 and went through up-and-campaigns in the following two seasons.

But this year, their paths have diverged, as All-Star Meier has led the Sharks in goals and points.

“We’ve been through it right from the get-go. We were roommates at the start of it,” Labanc recalled with a smile. “It was that little bit of internal competition, getting called up, getting sent down.”

Labanc has been in awe of what his old roomie has achieved and hopes he can write his own redemption arc too.

“There’s a big hope,” Boughner shared. “He’s a right shot, he can put the puck in the net, skill player. Those are all things we need. So we’re counting on him big time to come back.

“If there’s a team that needs that, it’s us.”

If Labanc can turn things around like Meier has, that would go a long way toward igniting the San Jose Sharks offense – they’re 30th in the league in goals – and getting them back in the playoffs next year.

“We all have the same type of mindset,” he said. “[Be] one of the top teams in the league.”

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