August 20 2014 11:50AM
One of the main driving forces behind this profile series - aside from striving to provide mid-August analysis that goes beyond debating whether Trevor Linden's trunks in his Ice Bucket Challenge are short, or too short - is to hopefully become more familiar with prospects that we could potentially one day see wearing Canucks jerseys on our television sets.
The first handful of guys that come up each year can prove to be a slog, because realistically, the chances that we'll ever need to really know their names are quite slim. But it's all part of the process; eventually we reach a point in which the quality of the players discussed rises, and as a result their respective futures become noticeably more promising.
While we're starting to reach that inflection point, Joseph LaBate is a name that longtime readers of this blog know all too well by now.
There's good reason why LaBate has been on our radar for three solid summers now, and it's largely due to the tantalizing combination of physical skills he possesses. Sure, being listed at 6'4'', 215 lbs he provides the sort of size down the middle that makes hockey fans salivate, but it's the legitimate puck skills he has to back that large frame up which make him the intriguing prospect that he is:
Yet still, the fact that his offensive output has been increasing at what can described as a snail's pace since his Freshman campaign serves as a red flag. While his goal totals have been steadily rising, the overall production has been mitigated by a mirrored dip in assists.
I spoke to Chris Peters of CBS Sports about it, who has his finger firmly on the NCAA circuit's pulse:
"LaBate played as the No. 3 C for a lot of the year, but his line saw quite a bit of action. They did have a lot of defensive responsibility, but I think the Badgers were using more of a top-nine kind of set up than your typical top-six, bottom-six forward kind of rotation.
With that being said, considering that the guys ahead of him on the depth chart last year have graduated or signed pro deals, Labate figures to make a bigger offensive impact next season, I'd think. He's probably going to have to be a top-two center and he's going to have to put up some points. His size and strength are assets and now he's also got experience on his side. I would not be totally surprised by a breakout season from Labate as a senior. "
These sentiments were echoed by LaBate himself, who told me as much when speaking with him:
"I was asked to play a solid two-way role this past year and I think I excelled at it. I take great pride in my defensive game and being able to get the puck back and create offense out of that, using skills to create chances. I also take pride in the face-off circle and am continuously working on techniques to help win more draws."
He went on:
"I was asked to handle a large chunk of key defensive zone draws this year. Being asked to play a more two-way game this past year really helped develop my defensive game and I know that's a hot commodity in pro hockey. Having to play hard minutes in the defensive zone and then being expected to produce offensively as well has helped my game tremendously, I think. Many players can’t handle that style of play, so I'm glad to say that I can.
I was second on my team in shots so - while I relished in honing my defensive game - I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more time in the offensive zone, and being given a chance to produce more. I was behind a large senior class and next year I'll be able to get the ice time and opportunities that I haven’t been able to enjoy in the past."
LaBate isn't wrong, here. The five players who produced more points than him for the Badgers last season have all moved on this summer, and as a Senior he seems primed to receive a significantly larger piece of the pie. Particularly if he continues the shot rate he alluded to from this past year, which at 2.81 shots/game was bordering on elite.
Ideally he'll sign within 30 days of graduating next season and get a few games of run down in Utica with the Comets under his belt. He'll likely need even more seasoning beyond that. There's unquestionably still a ways to go for LaBate, who's admittedly just now learning how to use his frame and size as he matures physically.
But the fact that he gets to do so under the watchful eye of Mike Eaves - who has churned out an astounding number of players that went on to have NHL careers since taking the program over back in '02-'03 (23, by my count) - leaves reason for optimism that LaBate will continue to progress.