What keeps Kevin Labanc up at night?
It’s not playing on the fourth line. It’s not getting skipped on the power play.
“Up every two hours,” he laughed, when I asked how Eric Milan Labanc, born on Feb. 27, is sleeping. “Sleeping like a baby.”
Welcome to the world Eric Milan Labanc 2/27/23. Incredible gift from God. We are so blessed to have you in our lives💙 pic.twitter.com/drV0gzUb3A
— Kevin Labanc (@Str8ToTheBanc) February 28, 2023
It’s not that Labanc doesn’t care about how his icetime has dwindled in recent months. From November to January, the winger averaged a steady 15:49 a night, seventh among San Jose Sharks forwards. His 23 points in those 35 games was fifth on the team.
Since then, however, the 27-year-old’s icetime and production has plummeted. Since the end of the All-Star break, Labanc has played 10:16 a night and has just two points in 14 appearances. He’s been healthy scratched eight times.
“I’m looking for compete. I’m looking for effort. I’m looking for getting your nose over the puck, poise with the puck,” Quinn said of Labanc in mid-February.
“It’s just creating chances, producing and skating, working hard,” Labanc commented last week, of what the coaches want from him, after he was benched on Mar. 9 against the St. Louis Blues. “You just keep working hard to make sure that you’re a good teammate. Wherever you are in the line-up, you’re just trying to produce and help the team.”
That’s one area where Labanc has been consistent. In a truly challenging season – besides his inconstant playing time and the birth of his first child, Labanc’s father just recently came out of a coma – he’s been a positive force in the locker room.
“That was extremely difficult for him,” San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture observed. “It was tough to show up at the rink everyday. But he did it with a smile and great energy, and he didn’t let that affect him too much. I don’t think that I could possibly do that the way he was able to.”
“Kevin’s been through a lot this year,” Quinn acknowledged. “He’s been through a ton, on top of having his wife having a baby. I think sometimes players don’t realize what life can do to you and in every aspect of your life.”
But through it all?
“It’s not an easy position when you’re not playing [and] you’re a guy who scores and is counted on to contribute for a team, you know?” Couture offered. “He came in with a good attitude. He worked extremely hard. And he cheered for his teammates.”
Not that Labanc wasn’t burning up on the inside.
“It is a little [frustrating],” he admitted. “Obviously, you want to play more and be on the ice and help the team win because I know that I can help the team win and produce for them.”
For what it’s worth, Quinn knows that Labanc, who’s got one more year on his contract at $4.725 million AAV, can give more. It might be why he demands so much of the winger.
“He’s too good of a player to be in the situation he’s in,” the bench boss insisted. “He and I have talked about what we need him to do. He understands and knows what we’re looking for. And when he starts doing it consistently, he’s gonna get way more ice time.”
It looks like Labanc is back on track.
Since that benching against the Blues, Labanc notched a goal and an assist in two games against the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, then played 16:02, his most since Jan. 27, skating with Couture and top prospect William Eklund in a top-six role against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night.
“Noticeably the last couple games, he’s played well,” Couture said before the 2-1 overtime loss to Seattle. “He’s been on pucks, he’s shot pucks. He’s been physical on the forecheck. I’m sure Quinny and him have had a lot of discussions. It’s probably the way that they want him to play.
“Credit to him. He’s gone out and figured out a way to do that and he’s been rewarded with more ice time, power play time.”
Quinn agrees, saying after Labanc’s goal against Columbus, his first since Jan. 10, “Kevin had one of his better games in a while. Not just because he scored, I just thought he was around the puck more. He was over the puck more. He earned the ice time that he got.”
If this wasn’t clear after Labanc’s ordeals this season?
“People want long-winded answers. They want more in-depth answers,” Quinn, who’s been asked plenty about his benched $4 million winger recently, mused. “But it really comes down to that. Skating faster, competing harder. Be more consistent. Being hard on pucks. That’s [for] everybody. It’s not just Kevin Labanc. That’s everybody.”
There are 13 games left in the San Jose Sharks’ season, 13 games for Labanc to finish a true rollercoaster season right.
But above all else? All is right in Labanc’s world. His wife Kelly and son Eric are healthy. His father Milan is out of the hospital and doing well.
“[Some things are] above hockey and this is one of those things,” Labanc shared of his new perspective on life. “It is great to come home to [Eric] and to Kelly and to spend time with them.
“My whole career has been just about hockey, hockey, hockey. But it’s nice to have that kind of separation. Leave hockey at the rink and then come home and just be with the family.”
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