The Vancouver Canucks were forced to recall yet another forward from the AHL Utica Comets: Joseph LaBate.
In preseason, the Vancouver Canucks had two major surprises. On defence, undrafted NCAA signee Troy Stecher looked like an NHL-ready option, and forward Joseph LaBate came out of nowhere to almost earn a bottom-line spot to start the year. Thanks to injuries to Chris Tanev, Stecher has already appeared in 10 NHL games. With Derek Dorsett down, it will be LaBate’s turn to show what he can do in real NHL action.
Preseason games are usually played between teams that consist mostly of AHL players and prospects. It can’t be compared to regular-season hockey, but still gives us a solid idea of what we can expect. LaBate left a lasting impression.
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Mostly famous for the image below, LaBate played a gritty game and proved he can add both physicality and offensive skill to the lineup.
There was no one who disliked what LaBate did. A rookie, he battled as hard as he could because, unlike players like Dorsett, LaBate knew he had no spot guaranteed. In fact, he was not even on fans’ minds as a possible call-up option going into the summer. So, while Dorsett was being Dorsett, LaBate provided some much-needed energy and grit, and showed a fourth line can be dangerous offensively, too — he looked promising all around.
First of all, there is a major difference between practicing and playing preseason games with the NHL club and being there for the regular season. Playing when it counts adds a whole new level of pressure. You don’t want to screw up, and you want to stick around for as long as you can. It’s difficult.
Second, LaBate is still young. At 23 years old, he has all the tools, but consistency only comes with time. His two goals and six points in 12 games are all right, but the fact that half of them came in the last three games show that hot and cold streaks still affect him a lot. It’s normal, and simply means we shouldn’t expect too much right from the start.
Furthermore, the Canucks are not a good team right now. Jack Skille, Michael Chaput, Jayson Megna and LaBate would not be on a good NHL team all at once. The Canucks are struggling, and a player of LaBate’s calibre is unlikely to stand out among the rest.
None of this is to say LaBate can’t be a strong addition. Who knows, maybe he’ll stick around longer than Chaput and Megna. Perhaps his 6-foot-4 frame in a combination with strong work ethic and skill will be revitalising for the bottom six.
We don’t know for now, so let’s just wait and take an unbiased look at a talented rookie, with no expectations at all.