Does Bob Boughner expect Kevin Labanc to score 20 goals from the fourth line?
Of course not.
This was Boughner’s message to Labanc after scratching him on Tuesday night: “No matter what line he’s playing on, we have to work as hard away from the puck as we work with the puck.”
That, Labanc should be able to do whether he plays with Timo Meier or Oscar Meyer. Labanc is going to get a chance to show Boughner that’s he learned his lesson tonight — he’s back in, flanked by Jonah Gadjovich and centered by Jasper Weatherby.
“You create offense by just being a dog on the bone. Puck retrievals, I think the more you retrieve pucks, the more offensive chances you’re gonna get,” Labanc said specifically about what he’s looking to improve. “On the defensive side of things, make sure you’re not giving anything up. Try and create a little bit of puck possession in the defensive zone. So once you get into the neutral zone, you got a little bit of control and possession. And then maybe you can break into the offensive zone with entry and possession.”
Labanc has had a habit recently, when he gets the puck along the wall in the defensive zone, of passing it to the middle quickly — which is great when a San Jose Sharks teammate is open. That’s the system. But if his linemate isn’t open? That’s a turnover near your slot.
The winger, essentially, has to process faster — go to the middle if it’s open, or curl back with possession, as he’s suggesting here, if he doesn’t have a play.
“Kevin’s an offensive player,” Boughner noted. “But I don’t want to see him pace himself for offense, I want to see him, if it’s gonna be a 30-second shift or a 35-second shift, if we could just increase his pace a little bit with and without the puck.”
Good defense leads to more offense, which is what Meier himself has seemingly learned this year in his breakout campaign. The 25-year-old Meier and almost 26-year-old Labanc are skilled forwards who are close in age, and both were in Boughner’s doghouse last season.
“You learn as you get older and more experienced, details are really what gives you success,” Boughner said of the example that Meier can provide Labanc. “We need guys playing the right way and guys playing detailed, and that’s when they’re gonna have their success. Better they play without the puck, the more they’re going to have the puck.”
Between missing five games because of COVID and his one-game suspension for slew-footing Tyler Bozak and this recent healthy scratch, it’s been a choppy year for Labanc in terms of staying in the line-up
“I’m not happy with the way things have gone. Like when I came back from COVID,” Labanc admitted about having just six points in 19 appearances. “It’s a tough thing to come back from and just kind of get right back into it. It’s never easy to go from being sick like a dog to playing in the National Hockey League.”
But the winger says he’s 100 percent now and ready for “a fresh start” to his season.
“You just kind of put that in the past, and you’re ready for tonight. Right now, the whole goal is to make playoffs, these are two really important points,” he said of tonight’s match-up with the Central Division-leading Minnesota Wild.
Labanc and the San Jose Sharks have no choice but to put all this in the past: After this season, the winger has two more years left on his contract at a hefty $4.725 million per.
“I know where his heart is, I know he wants to win here,” Boughner said. “I know he wants to be a part of that.”
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