San Jose Sharks winger set to reach NHL milestone

There was a time near the start of Kevin Labanc’s professional career when a spot in the Sharks’ lineup was anything but a guarantee. He played in 55 games in his rookie season in 2016-17, but also spent time with the Barracuda, and maybe even a brief stint in then-coach Pete DeBoer’s doghouse.

Fast forward four years and not only has Labanc become one of the leaders of his draft class in terms of games played, but his ironman streak is now the third-longest on the Sharks.

Labanc will play in his 300th career NHL game Saturday, and his 227th straight, when the Sharks play the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center. Labanc, selected by the Sharks in the sixth round, 171st overall, in 2014, is the 13th player from his draft class to reach the 300-game milestone, and the only one selected after the fourth round.

On the Sharks roster, only Patrick Marleau (869) and Brent Brent (556) have played more consecutive games going into Saturday.

“To be in the NHL for that long, it’s something that you only dream about as a kid. It’s something you’ve been working for your whole life, so it’s a great milestone,” Labanc said. “Right now I’m more focused on just the game and how I can help the team win.”

Of the 12 players who were drafted in 2014 and have already passed 300 games, 10 were taken in the first round in 2014, one was taken in the third round (Brayden Point), and one in the fourth (Viktor Arvidsson).

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Labanc led the Ontario Hockey League with 127 points in 2015-16 and followed that up with seven goals in his first 24 NHL games in his rookie NHL season. Toward the second half of that year, though, Labanc had a 28-game goal drought, which, at the time, may have hurt his confidence. His struggles bled into the following year, as he spent two games in the AHL in Nov. 2017.

Labanc, though, said he never lost faith in himself that he could be a longtime pro in the NHL, and has played in every Sharks game since Nov. 12, 2017.

He is also in the first season of a four-year, $18.9 million deal.

“I thought I could play right from the get-go. So, I’ve always had that kind of confidence and I always felt good about myself,” Labanc said. “You have some great leaders that you played with and you kind of learn to take some of the things that you learned from their game and incorporate it into your own. Just being a professional on and off the ice.

“That’s how you prolong your career, by putting the time and work in on and off the ice, taking care of your body, eating right. Playing with (Joe Thornton), Patty, (Logan Couture), Tomas (Hertl), there’s so many great leaders on the team that really set the bar and set the standard for how you should take care of yourself.”

BACK IN NET: Devan Dubnyk will start Saturday as he makes his first appearance …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Sports

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