SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Zamboni at the Sharks’ main practice rink was still resurfacing the ice and the team’s scheduled scrimmage remained about 20 minutes away when Kevin Labanc – the first player out of the dressing room – opened the gate and began to glide around.
If it was an example of Labanc’s impatience to get this season going, well, he can be forgiven.
A little over nine months after a separated shoulder – and subsequent surgery – prematurely ended a disappointing 2021-2022 season, Labanc is back to full strength and eager for a fresh start under a new regime.
He’s getting one under coach David Quinn, who placed the Brooklyn-born forward on the Sharks’ second line with captain Logan Couture and free agent signing Oskar Lindblom for the start of training camp.
“I’ve always felt confident in my game,” Labanc said. “I know what I can bring, and I know what I can bring to this organization.
“Couture and Lindblom, it feels good playing with those guys. We’ve got some pretty good chemistry right off the bat. We’ll see where that takes us this season.”
There’s no guarantee, of course, that Labanc will still be on the second line once the regular season begins Oct. 7 at O2 Arena in Prague against the Nashville Predators.
But Quinn is also aware of how much of a difference-maker Labanc can be when he’s at his best and quite frankly, the Sharks do not have a ton of other viable options for the position, with William Eklund being one if he has an outstanding camp.
Right now, though, the job is Labanc’s to lose. During Friday’s scrimmage, Labanc scored two goals and hit the cross-bar with another shot, as he and his linemates largely controlled the play whenever they were on the ice.
“I’ve certainly liked what I’ve seen so far,” Quinn said of Labanc on Friday. “Rang one off the crossbar and then 30 seconds later, he puts one in the back of the net, which is what he does very well.