Tuesday, July 10, 2012
There is no rush for the Oilers to use Hall at centre
It is obvious to anyone who watches the Edmonton Oilers on a regular basis. They need help down the middle. They have that potential stud in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and three able bodies in Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Anton Lander, that are more than capable of picking up the slack in a bottom six role. Which leaves the role of a second line centre. On this team, Sam Gagner is not the right guy for the job. Some believe shifting Taylor Hall into the middle could be the answer. Perhaps but adding that sort of change and pressure onto the former first overall selection's shoulders this early into his career, would be a mistake...at least for now.
As things currently sit, there is little doubt that Horcoff will once again be among the leaders in ice time among Oiler forwards. While it is obvious that the veteran centre is far more effective when he is not overused, all signs are pointing to the captain being asked to do far too much, for yet another season. Unless of course, they go out and acquire a number two centre.
Honestly, it would be rather surprising if Nugent-Hopkins were not able to hold his own against most opponents but putting the pressure of having him going up against the opposition's top line, on a nightly basis, would not be a good idea. RNH is a smart player in all areas of the ice but he is still just a kid and should not be expected to help do the so called "heavy lifting", for at least another season. While his line doesn't need to be fed "soft" minutes, they certainly don't need the toughest assignment.
Gagner has shown he is not responsible or good enough, defensively, to handle that role and it leaves the Oilers in a a bit of a pickle. With their glut of talent on the wing, the easy choice would be moving Hall. He has proven to be more than capable of handling the tougher opposition and would likely excel in due time. Problem being, "in due time" doesn't help Edmonton right now and the possible drawbacks are substantial.
Taylor has endured two injury riddled seasons to start his NHL career and is coming off major shoulder surgery. Ask any player and they will tell you how difficult it is to return from any surgery, let alone one on your shoulder. With that being the case, the 2012-2013 campaign will not be easy on Hall and adding the burden of a new position would probably not be a good idea. Not to mention the obvious concerns with having him taking faceoffs. He would not only struggle in the dot because of his lack of time in the circle but adding the unnecessary strain on his shoulder and head, would be asking for trouble.
If Edmonton can not acquire a second line centre that can compliment the Nuge, than by all means, try Hall out at centre in 2013-2014. The former Windsor Spitfire standout is often compared to former Oilers legend Mark Messier and while he is not a carbon copy of the Hall of Famer, he has many similar traits. Could he become that "second line guy" like Messier?
All of you that are old enough to remember "The Moose" during his days in Edmonton, know exactly what I'm talking about. Messier was the one that did much of the so called "heavy lifting", allowing Wayne Gretzky to do what he did best. While it is a totally different game these days, having another centre that can lightening the responsibility on your top offensive weapon is still a must.
The Oilers would likely love nothing more than Taylor Hall to step into that 1A/1B slot with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and roll with them as their top centres for years to come. They are well aware of how difficult it is to find an elite centre in the NHL and the potential of having two is something few organizations are blessed with.
That being said, if the end game is to have Taylor play down the middle, it will take him time to adjust and he will need to prepare in the off season. Which is something that is simply not possible this summer. In my mind, the kid can do whatever he puts his mind to but from an organizational stanpoint, they have to put Hall in the best situation to succeed...which would mean allowing him a full season to get healthy and find his own game, before asking him to make the switch.