On the surface, things are the same as they’ve always been in San Jose. The club is still really good (22-12-1, first in the Pacific Division) and the same veteran guys are still doing the business (Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton lead team in scoring).
Dig a little deeper, though, and there have been some significant changes.
The Sharks have quietly embraced a youth movement this season, though it might not remain quiet for long. Rookies Timo Meier, 20, and Kevin Labanc, 21, have both made significant impacts on the lineup.
Just ask Jumbo.
“[Labanc], just the ability to get in position to score – I think he’s a very, very smart hockey player. He wants to score every night, which is fun to see as an older player,” Thornton said, per CSN Bay Area. “Timo, just his speed stands out, and how strong he is.
“Both guys are playing huge roles on our team right now.”
The Sharks will go for their ninth win in 10 games tonight when they host Philly, and both Labanc and Meier will play key parts. Despite appearing in just 22 games this year and only averaging 13:03 TOI, Labanc sits fifth on the team in goals, with six — the same kind of sniping prowess he displayed with the AHL Barracuda.
He’s now on the club’s second line, centered by Logan Couture, and is on the Sharks’ second power-play unit as well.
Meier, the ninth overall pick in 2015, has an even smaller body of work, with just five games played thus far. Still, he’s been impressive — scoring in his NHL debut — and head coach Peter DeBoer suggested a bigger role could be in the cards.
“He’s looking dangerous out there,” DeBoer said. “I think he’s knocking on the door to do some real good things here.”
Labanc and Meier couldn’t have emerged at a better time. Mikkel Boedker, one of GM Doug Wilson’s biggest acquisitions in free agency, has been a disappointment and veteran winger Joel Ward has really struggled, with just two goals through 33 games.
Last year, Ward found the back of the net 21 times, the second-highest total of his career.