Image via Matthew Henderson
Regular readers of this site are already quite familiar with the prospect we’re profiling today, as he has been written about in-depth on numerous occasions. When Jeff Angus agreed to be a writer on this platform, he had a clause put into his contract that stipulated that there would need to be in excess of 3.5 LaBate-centric posts a year. Let’s just say that thus far he has delivered, and then some.
LaBate, the big centre set to enter his Junior season at Wisconsin, came in at number 8 on this list last year. While conventional wisdom would indicate that he took somewhat of a lateral step this past season – since he hasn’t technically moved up or down our rankings – I’d say that his 2012-13 campaign helped reassert the idea that his future is a positive one.
Read on past the jump for more on the former 4th round pick.
The biggest knock about the Minnesota native heading into his Sophomore season was the fact that for a guy listed at 6’4”, 200lbs, he didn’t play nearly enough of a physical game. He seemed to be aware of that stigma surrounding him when we spoke nearly a year ago. Here’s the key part of the chat, for me:
DF: In the past few seasons, the Canucks have focused on adding size in the draft in an attempt to establish a more physical brand of hockey. Have they told you that they’d like you work on anything in particular while you’re at Wisconsin?
JL: I have been told to work on my overall strength. I’m a 6’4” forward, weighing in around 205 pounds. There’s plenty of weight that I can put on in the future.
DF: There’s players out there that seek out physical contact, and then there’s players that tend to shy away from it. Which category would you put yourself into at this point?
JL: I would say that I am somewhere in the middle at this point of my career. But I am honestly putting a large emphasis on becoming a more physical player. I am working on the physical aspect of the game, and watching David Backes [who I referred to as a player that he has been compared to] play, you can tell that he plays with a physical edge on the ice. That’s something that I’m trying to incorporate into my game. I skated with Ryan Malone this past summer, and I have started watching more of his stuff as well.
I can’t say that I saw enough of LaBate over the course of this past season to verify whether he had actually put his words into action, so instead, I spoke to friend of the blog Chris Peters about what he saw when watching him play. Here’s what he had to say:
"LaBate took a step forward from his first season at Wisconsin, I think. He added some strength to his frame and some power elements to his game. His offense probably could improve, but I think we should see an uptick in his production this season as Wisconsin looks to be an improved team from a season ago. LaBate’s skills and skating are improving and his physical game is definitely on the rise. He still has a lot of work to get to an NHL-caliber talent, but the upside remains there."
Sounds like a positive report. While using penalty minutes as a measure of toughness and physical play isn’t the greatest, I will point out that he had 51 PIMs in 41 games after having just 24 in 37 games the year before. Take that for what it’s worth. What we do know is that not every player comes up knowing how to use their size effectively; for some guys, they need an "a-ha!" moment for it to click in their head that their the biggest person out there, and should play accordingly.
Beyond his physicality, there were also questions about whether his skating and offensive production would ever come around to the point where he’d be able to potentially push for a spot in an NHL top 6 one day. I’d say that those questions still exist, and that we’ll have to wait a few more years before we can truly reach a verdict. At this point, he projects as a third line centre (man, could the team ever use the 22-year old version of Joseph LaBate right about now!), but by all accounts he projects to have a higher ceiling than that if he puts it all together.
Just keep in mind that he just turned 20 – making him 3-4 years younger than the two prospects that came directly before him on this list. He will almost certainly play out his final two years at Wisconsin, and will then likely need some time in the AHL to adjust to the professional game. There are plenty of things that could happen over that time.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but, LaBate is an intriguing talent who you’ll clearly have to wait a few years to see. But if he continues to develop and improve the way he has over the past two years, there’s reason to believe that he could make an impact in a Canucks sweater one day.
I thought that this line by Jeff Angus – from one of his 192,827,471 features on LaBate – was beautifully said:
"It isn’t all roses for LaBate right now, but prospects (especially of the big forward variety) tend to experience peaks and valleys as they develop as hockey players. Both the Canucks and the Badgers still regard LaBate quite highly, and he will be handled with patience."
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to the development of prospects. Don’t Canucks fans know it.