April 7, 2014

Prospects Pulse: Kevin Labanc (Staten Island)

By Kirk Luedeke


Kevin Labanc knew he'd have a mountain to climb when he jumped to the OHL's Barrie Colts, but his hardworking game has helped him make the transition. (Terry Wilson Photography — OHL)
 

Top 5 N.Y./N.J.
2014 NHL Draft Prospects
for March

1. Sonny Milano

LW, U.S. NTDP (Massapequa, N.Y.), 5-foot-11, 183 pounds

Central Scouting mid-term rank: 16 NA

Continues to rack up the points in securing a solid first round draft grade.

2. Alex Tuch

RW, U.S. NTDP, (Baldwinsville, N.Y.), 6-foot-4, 215 pounds

Central Scouting mid-term rank: 21 NA

With his ideal NHL tools, he might push Milano for bragging rights in the top round’s pecking order.

3. Tony DeAngelo

D, Sarnia (OHL) (Sewell, N.J.), 5-foot-11, 170 pounds

Central Scouting mid-term rank: 10 NA

Talent clearly there, but whispers about him being a questionable teammate surfaced when the OHL suspended him eight games for violating the league’s diversity policy.

4. Ryan Hitchcock

LW, U.S. NTDP (Manhasset, N.Y.), 5-foot-11, 170 pounds

Central Scouting mid-term rank: 95 NA

Does not generate a lot on the NHL draft’s “buzz-o-meter,” but scouts know that the Yale recruit is a well-rounded, versatile player.

5. Kevin Labanc

RW, Barrie (OHL) (Staten Island, N.Y.), 5-foot-11, 186

Central Scouting mid-term rank: 88 NA

When Kevin Labanc graduated from the U.S. NTDP and opted for major junior over the original NCAA path he’d laid out, he knew it would be a major test.

Just how challenging the transition would be, however, took some time for the forward from Staten Island, N.Y., to get used to. Admittedly, he’s a better player for the experience.

Now, the youngster who grew up admiring Peter Bondra for his speed and goal-scoring ability hopes that teams have seen enough from him to warrant a call in Philadelphia at the NHL draft in June.

“It was definitely a big adjustment,” Labanc said recently, of joining the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League for the 2013-14 hockey season. “The (OHL) is faster, with bigger, skilled players, some of whom are going up and down from pro hockey.” Originally committed to Notre Dame for 2014-15, Labanc switched gears for the league that is the biggest producer of NHL talent per capita these days, with a draft rate of about 50 percent of all players selected since 2010.

“I thought this is a better league,” Labanc said. “My goal is to play in the NHL, so taking this step was important for me to get closer to realizing that dream.”

With 10 goals and 29 points in his first 52 OHL contests, Labanc is starting to round into form with the production to go with his speed and energy game.

“He’s coming along well,” said Barrie assistant coach Todd Miller. “He’s finding the little things in his game that will get him drafted. He’s had ups and downs over the course of the season while trying to find himself, but he has a great shot, is so hungry for pucks and does a great job of winning battles for loose pucks.”

With the OHL season winding down and the playoffs around the corner, Labanc will need to continue his rising trajectory, but things are looking up for him as he continues to gain confidence.

“He’s got some skill and has been most dangerous on the power play when he has time and space,” said one NHL scout from a Western Conference team. “He needs to get stronger, and could be a guy who gets drafted if he continues to improve.”

For now, Labanc is getting into the groove and has his sights on helping Barrie capture the Robertson and Memorial Cups.

If he does enough to get selected in the June draft, then so much the better.

The Labanc File

Born: Dec. 12, 1995 Shoots: R

Size: 5-foot-11, 186 pounds

Hometown: Staten Island, N.Y.

Current team: Barrie Colts (OHL)

Previous teams: U.S. NTDP U18, New Jersey Rockets Jr. B

Central Scouting mid-term rank: 88 NA

Scouting report: Speedy, shifty winger plays with a high degree of energy and brings a constant work ethic to every shift. Tenacious on the forecheck and in puck pursuit; keeps his feet moving and forces turnovers with dogged pressure. Above-average puck skills and vision; an effective power-play presence who uses his quickness to exploit open space and work the play to the net. Average size, though did benefit from the off-ice conditioning at the NTDP.

Draft outlook: Labanc is a draft wild card. He’s talented enough to get a nod in the latter rounds, but each year, more than a few players are passed over for lesser-known names.

IN HIS OWN WORDS …

What he brings to the table: “I’m a hard-working, competitive player. Whenever I get the chance to score a goal or make a play, I put my entire effort into it. Even though I’m not the biggest player, I play a gritty game. When push comes to shove, I don’t back down.”

Favorite NHL team, players growing up: New York Rangers; Peter Bondra, Mark Messier

NHL player he tries to pattern game after: Ryan Callahan

Pop culture clip – iPod faves: “I’m Having a Party” by Jonathan Coulton; “Tsunami” by DVBBS & Bourgeous

Coach’s Corner: “Kevin has the ability to develop into a good two-way forward at the NHL level because of his talent and effort. It was more of a learning year for him at the start, but he’s really come on with his confidence and contributions in the last couple of months.” — Todd Miller, assistant coach, Barrie Colts

Scout’s Out: “The most impressive part about Labanc is his work ethic. He never seems to shy away from a battle for a puck even against bigger, stronger players. … He’s a smart player aware of his defensive responsibilities and more often than not is in the right place at the right time, and is sometimes used on the (penalty kill). As a late ’95 birthdate, he’s older than most of his draft peers and he has shown to have the skill, but will probably take longer to develop. A team that can wait for that development should take a serious look at him in the middle rounds of the draft.” – Dominic Tiano, OHL Writers Network

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: feedback@nyhockeyjournal.com