August 22 2012 10:01AM
With five goals and 20 points in 37 games in the WCHA in 2011-12, LaBate had a solid freshman campaign for the Badgers. While Wisconsin is returning most of their forwards from last season, they are losing a key piece on the back end (Justin Schultz, you may have heard of him) and LaBate looks ready to take on an even bigger role with the club as a sophomore. . LaBate is still very young, and already he brings a lot to the table for the Badgers. Expect them to ensure that he is given enough minutes to be a difference maker going forward.
LaBate has the skill set and the frame to develop into a top-six forward at the NHL level. Two things are holding him back at the moment – quickness and strength. LaBate is a great skater once he gets going, but like many young prospects, he needs to improve on his first few steps. He also needs to bulk up a bit, which isn't uncommon when you're a lanky 19 year old. Both issues, thankfully, are quite correctable. What LaBate possesses on the other hand, can’t be taught: height (6-4) and hockey sense.
LaBate came to Wisconsin with a strong reputation from his final year of high school hockey.
“LaBate comes… out of Minnesota high school hockey where he was a dominant force for the Academy of Holy Angels, a private school in Richfield, MN. LaBate's senior season got off to a slow start as he was limited in preseason training when he injured his foot. The injury limited his fall season in the prestigious Upper Mid-West High School Elite League to only five games. Despite the injury LaBate, a skilled centerman, had a monster senior year recording 29 goals and 52 points in 26 games for the Stars. His play would earn him team MVP and All-conference honors for a second consecutive season. He was also named All-State and was a top 10 finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award.”
Even as a 17-year-old, his hockey sense stood out. A rival high school coach on LaBate:
"If you make a mistake in a high school game, usually the kid is not going to score. Every time you made a mistake on LaBate, it ended up in the back of the net. You can’t really teach that -- he senses the game so well."
As most of you are aware of by now, the Badgers have been developing fantastic prospects in recent years. In addition to Schultz, fellow young blue liners Brendan Smith, Jamie McBain, Ryan McDonagh, and Jake Gardiner all played at Wisconsin. And up front, Derek Stepan, Blake Geoffrion, and Craig Smith (Nashville) count themselves among the ranks of former Wisconsin Badgers. Head coach Mike Eaves simply knows how to develop pro hockey players...
LaBate made huge strides last season, and most observers seem to think that he'll be a force in the college game in quick order. As an 18-year-old, his numbers are somewhat comparable to some recent NCAA graduates. LaBate is more comparable to Wheeler or Penner than Read, as he is still growing into his frame. LaBate’s role was limited on the Badgers for much of last season, though he did occasionally play in the top-six. As mentioned above, he should be counted on to score at least 10 goals and add in 20-25 assists in 2012-13.
Here is a recent interview with LaBate from Canucks prospects camp:
A pre-draft scouting report on LaBate very accurately describes LaBate’s game. From friend of CanucksArmy.com, Kirk Luedeke:
“An effective net presence, LaBate uses his size to take away sight lines and has a quick stick. He lacks the strength to be a force right now, but is so much taller than most that he's still tough to move. Generates good power on his shot and it will only get heavier as he continues to add strength to his wiry frame. He does the dirty work in front of the net and in the corners. Like most big guys, he's able to use his big body to shield and protect the puck well, which allows his line to set up an effective cycle. He's gotten good marks for his hockey sense from scouts I've talked to as well.”
Vancouver has placed a premium on size with their prospect group recently, and the countdown from here on out is going to reflect that (with one exception). LaBate doesn’t necessarily play with a mean streak all the time, but he is adept at using his size to his advantage and he thrives in the dirty areas, where a price must be paid in order to generate offense. The Canucks should be happy with his first season as a Badger, and he looks to be right on track as an NHL prospect.
LaBate won’t be donning the Canucks sweater in a regular season game for a while, but he's got a chance to be worth the wait.