Labanc forgoes NCAA route to develop his game in Barrie

By Jason Menard

Kevin Labanc - Barrie Colts

Photo: Barrie Colts forward and 2014 prospect Kevin Labanc spent two seasons in the U.S. NTDP before electing to develop his game in the Ontario Hockey League (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Staten Island-born Kevin Labanc was almost a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but his decision to give himself a fighting chance at The Show by joining the OHL’s Barrie Colts is paying off as NHL Central Scouting has rated him a B-level skater.

“I came to the OHL because it’s definitely a skilled league,” he said. “The players here, you’re playing against drafted players and players that have been in the NHL, too. This is a more skilled league than the NCAA and I felt that this was a better route for me.”

As an American born player, the OHL wasn’t initially on his radar. But the more he learned, the more he liked what he saw.

“Well, you don’t really know too much about it,” he said. “You know more about the NCAA and the USHL, but once you start knowing more and more about it, as time goes on, it becomes a league that you really want to play in and take advantage of for your development.”

A member of the U.S. National Development Program for the past two seasons, Labanc has transitioned nicely to the junior ranks. He’s exceeded his totals from last season with four goals and six assists — but it took him 26 games with the USNTDP and he’s reached those thresholds in 17 OHL games, playing alongside fellow Central Scouting-designated B-level prospect, Brendan Lemieux. Seeing his name on that list helped justify his change of leagues.

“It was definitely a good feeling. I mean, it’s everybody’s goal to be an 'A' skater, but that’s just something you have to improve on,” he said. “Throughout the year I’m just willing to improve myself and hopefully I’ll improve my rank.

“I had no idea what it was going to be. It was surprising. But it’s a good thing to be a 'B' skater and hopefully I can get my rank up.”

Labanc also saw one of his close friends and former teammates, Mike McCarron, join the OHL’s London Knights after getting drafted in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens.

“It was definitely a good feeling. I was obviously happy for him and he’s a really good player,” he said. “Knowing that I’m going to be playing against him [this season] is pretty awesome. He obviously got drafted in the first round, so I’m going to hold nothing back.”

Labanc would like to join him at this year’s draft and he said he has identified what he needs to work on, which is everything.

“You always need improvement in the game,” Labanc said. “One thing I have to do is just keep working hard and work on scoring goals, making plays, and being a gritty player.”

Growing up on Staten Island, Labanc was within a few miles of a number of NHL teams, including the three New York/New Jersey-area squads. But this Staten Islander was a die-hard fan of Manhattan’s squad.

“I was always a Rangers fan,” he said. “My dad took me to my first NHL game when I was very young and that’s my favourite team of all time.

“My all-time favourite player growing up was probably Peter Bondra. He’s just a great hockey player — and overall great player. He’s just very skilled and a very hard worker.”

And as the Barrie Colts enter into a bit of a rebuild following last season’s OHL Championship heartbreak, Labanc has the opportunity to play a bigger role. It’s an opportunity he’s embracing.

“The goal is to obviously win as many games as you can, so if you ever get the opportunity you have to do what you’re put on the ice for, whether that’s make a play or make a hit,” he said. “So when you’re getting all of that opportunity, you just have to play your role.”

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