Bucky's 5th Quarter's "Meet the Freshmen" series continues on today with a freshman forward out of the Twin Cities. We've been introducing you to a couple of incoming hockey freshmen every week leading up to the Badgers season opener October 7th versus Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center. We've already featured goalie Landon Peterson, defensemen Jake McCabe, and forwards Brendan Woods and Brad Navin. Today the spotlight is on Joseph LaBate.
LaBate comes to the Badgers straight 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.
People around Minnesota weren't the only ones to notice LaBate's talent. The 6'4, 195 pound forward was a favorite of NHL scouts around the league. His play during his senior year had him ranked as a second or third round NHL draft pick. NHL Central Scouting (51), and Red Line Report (65), two publications that are very well respected both had LaBate rated high. However due to concerns about his foot injury from the fall, LaBate slipped into the fourth round where the Vancouver Canucks snagged the young lefty with the 101st pick.
It wasn't until late last winter that LaBate was even brought up in consideration for the Wisconsin hockey team. The Badgers looked to be fairly set on forward recruits for the upcoming season. That was until late February when news broke that Madison native and former Wisconsin Mr. Hockey winner Cody Strang was not going to pass the NCAA clearinghouse. Ten days later LaBate was a Badger.
Sometimes things work out for the best and this situation is no different. While it would have been nice to bring in Strang, who is a talented player (and has found a new home with Bemidji State), LaBate looks like he could be a potential star in the WCHA. Labate is expected to be an immediate contributor offensively and could even see time in a top six forward role to start the season.
While the Badgers may have entered the picture late, they weren't the only ones at the party. LaBate chose the Badgers over scholarship offers from Maine, RPI, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota State and Bemidji State. LaBate also had official visits set up for Minnesota and North Dakota who were both expected to make scholarship offers but LaBate cancelled those trips after visiting Madison.
In an interview with MNHockeyHub.com, LaBate talked about falling in love with Wisconsin on his visit.
"I just loved it there," LaBate said about his trip to Madison, where one of his tour guides was Badgers freshman defenseman Joe Faust, a former Bloomington Jefferson standout. "I had a really good feeling."
Opposing coaches took notice of LaBate's skill as well. Rival Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly came away raving about the Eagan, MN native.
"I told him after we played them that was the best forward I had seen all year."
Pauly wasn't the only coach gushing about LaBate last year, Minnetonka coach Brian Urick was impressed with the way LaBate can finish.
"If you make a mistake in a high school game, usually the kid is not going to score," Urick said. "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."
Leading up to the NHL Draft there were numerous scouting reports available on LaBate. Here is a sampling of those that were available.
LaBate held steady in our rankings this season and has definitely put his name on the map this season. He’s got the frame that will definitely interest NHL teams and his skating ability and willingness to play in front of the net will surely entice NHL teams as well. The Wisconsin commit will benefit from playing in the NCAA, where he’ll have an opportunity to add some much needed strength to his frame while playing against older players over the next 3-4 seasons.
OK, big, real big, now look up at 6’4, a centerman to boot. Like him so far!!! And hard skills too, an RPG (that’s rocket propelled grenade for those of us without two tours in Afghanistan) for a shot, the soft hands that you sometimes wish your doctor had, the nice top speed of an SUV that isn’t worried about stopping anytime soon. He can also bring the physicality to his work that you want from a big guy but his lack of strength keeps that part of his game from being overpowering to date. Joseph will be attending The University of Wisconsin next year so he still has plenty of time to perfect that part of his game. He will also need to work on his acceleration but that may come naturally as he adds to his lower body strength.
Has the combination of size and speed that drives scouts giddy. LaBate is a mature player that has developed nicely over his high school career. Is capable of getting dirty and playing a physical game or can step it up a notch and play with finesse. Has great one-on-one skills, having the ability to carve into a defense, picking apart every weakness.
LaBate has a cannon of a shot, which he is able to bury from outside the slot. LaBate shows no ill effects of a broken leg that made him miss most of the Midwest Elite League. As LaBate advances to the next level he must work on protecting the puck as he’s prone to turnovers.
At 6-4, 190-pounds, he's a stick figure right now, but dominating at the high school/prep level and when he fills out to his pro playing weight, look out. He has 20 goals in 19 games this season with 35 points. He went through a four-game stretch in which he potted nine goals, including a Texas hat trick (4 goals) against Blake.
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.
He's committed to Wisconsin after producing 29 goals, 23 assists and a plus-27 rating in 26 games for the Stars. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound center failed to score a point only three times all season.
"He has unbelievable skill, is a great skater and possesses really good hands," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee. "He can shoot the puck and is very unselfish."
Like I said previously, LaBate should get every opportunity to make an immediate impact for the Badgers this season. They don't have a lot of returning players who can put the puck in the net and guys like LaBate and Navin who we previewed last week will be relied upon to score right out of the gate for the Badgers. Also like Navin, LaBate played primarily center in high school but may have to move to the wing this season as he adjusts to the WCHA.
The Badgers have 4 forwards who will be on the top two lines for sure in Mark Zengerle, Tyler Barnes, Derk Lee, and Michael Mersch. If LaBate can show that he's defensively responsible enough in preseason practices he should get an opportunity for one of those last two spots. Regardless if he's in the top six or not he should be in the lineup right away.
The Joseph LaBate File:
- Last Team: Academy of Holy Angels (MN high school)
- Hometown: Eagan, Minnesota
- Size: 6'4, 195
- Handed: Left
- Last Seasons Stats: 26 games, 29 goals, 23 assists
- Twitter account: @JosephLaBate
- 2011-2012 Projection: I think LaBate will start out on the wing as Zengerle, Lee, and Dahl project to be the top three centers right now. With Barnes and Mersch starting the year as wings with Zengerle I think we'll see LaBate on the wing with Lee and go from there. If he can prove he's able to play on both ends of the ice the sky is the limit. 37 games, 8 goals, 10 assists, 18 points.
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