Taylor Hall was skating in the middle of Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner at practice this afternoon in Dallas, and it will be interesting to see how he handles playing the middle. Now that Hall has gotten used to the speed and pace of the NHL, it looks like Tom Renney wants to see if Hall can handle all the responsibilites that go with playing centre.

There are lots of reasons why the Oilers are trying this experiment now.

  • It is clear they won’t make the playoffs, and even if Hall has lots of success down the middle, it shouldn’t alter their draft status that much. They will have to be very good in the second half to avoid getting a top-five pick.
  • Hall has NHL speed, of that there is no debate, and he isn’t small at 6’1" and he will only get stronger the next few years.
  • Now that he has confidence in his ability to compete in the NHL, they can move him to the middle and see if he flourishes there. If he is too overwhelmed, they can easily move him back to the wing.
  • He can’t possibly be much worse in the faceoff circle than Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano.
  • Playing him with the two most experienced forwards, means Renney will try and shelter him as much as possible during this experiment.

Hall’s biggest challenge will be not getting lost in his own zone. He can’t get running around too much, and when he does, because he will, he will need to find the "comfort" zone in front of his net. Because of his great speed Hall will be able to cover up some of his mental mistakes by using his speed to get back into position.

Some of you who wanted Hall in the middle back in camp shouldn’t be saying, "It is about time," because putting Hall in the middle at the start of the season would have likely been overwhelming. Now that he has understands the NHL I think it is a great time to experiment. 

The big question for me will be if Hall succeeds playing centre, will the Oilers adapt their draft thinking and go with a D-man instead of centre? It is clear this organization still needs a number one centre, and they owe it to themselves to at least try Hall down the middle. I’d still draft a centre in June, regardless of how Hall plays, because I think depth down the middle is key, but if Hall succeeds playing centre it will give the Oilers another option that they haven’t had thus far.

I have no idea how long this experiment will last, but it is just another interesting story line in a season that has been more about learning and experimenting than winning.  

***The other lines had Gagner playing with Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark, while Cogliano centred Ryan Jones and Liam Reddox. *** 

  • Jerk Store

    Read all the comments and changed my mind a couple of times in regards to Hall playing center “controversy”. At the end of the day you are not going to “screw him up”. If after 20 games this appears to be as good an idea as “new Coke” (for the young ‘ens, that is a soft drink marketing fiasco from 20 odd years ago, not a Columbian export) then he goes back to the wing. No harm done.

    But, here are a couple reasons it may. First, he skates amazingly well. Second, I am guessing his hand eye co-ordination is off the charts – which comes in handy on draws. Third, he is going to be a good sized lad. Finally – and most importantly – he has a drive unlike any other player we have. If he wants to make it work he will.

    We are not asking him to split atoms here. In it’s simplest form the C position in your own end is to support where the puck is. Obviously you have to be aware of where your opponent is and their are a million read and react scenarios but the center supports the puck. Hall is drawn to doing that anyway. I am also going to go out on a limb and say his Hockey IQ is likely as high as most on the team, Eberle excepted.
    And if this goes in the crapper, which it could, you pick him up, dust him off and put him back on the wing. Chalk it up to “been there, done that, bought a T-shirt” and move along. T Hall is not going to suddenly forget how to play left wing and turn into (insert your own personal whipping boy here).

  • Hey Gregor just wondering what the scoting report for Ryan Martindale was the day he was drafted and what led to him be taking at a rather low spot considering the year he had as a 17 year old. Also could u see him being the future number one center, hes got size, and scoring touch and what is head scout thinking about him?

  • BarryS

    This experiment is the next logical step for Hall. As many have noted, Hall is ahead of where Messier was at his age and Messier started as a winger in the pros although I suspect he was a center for the St. Albert Saints.

  • Depending on how this experiment goes with Hall at
    centre, the idea of ofeering our #1 pick this year to the Bruins for Tyler Seguin is starting to grow on me.

    The Bruins end up with another lottery pick, we get a potential high end centre, and the year burned off his ELC is offset by this year’s draft not being as top heavy.

    I know it sounds crazy to think about trading that pick, but like I said, the idea is growing on me.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Hmmm, ya that’s interesting. But I think the Bruinds would need something that could help them right away. Maybe something like Seguin+Bruins own 1st for Penner+our first.

      • Hemmertime

        They allegedly rejected Hemsky and Eberle for the pick. They arent moving Seguin I think unless the offer is our First + Hemsky + more I think. Why would they deal Seguin when they can just trade their own 1st or even the Leafs 1st this year with a bottom feeder for a top echelon UFA rental or player.

  • I dont know about Hop-Nug or Couturier, if those are the two cetermen the oil should target. They have a couple young boys coming up already, Lander et al, I say if Larsson is up then they should grab him, he’s an excellent puck-moving d-man, him and Marincin would be nice to bring up and Larssen is more nhl ready then the other top 5. Trade an asset such as penner, prospect and/or picks for a true top center, ex. Richards, Staal, Spezza, Seguin. There is no doubt this draft year is weaker than previous years and there are some teams struggling getting prospects, Flames, Toronto, etc. They should use some of the bait and trade for a top center rather than rely on the draft. Take Larsson!!

    • D-Man

      I agree with everything you say except trading for a number 1 center… How many teams do you know would willingly deal their number one guy and expect to get something as decent in return. There’s always a risk that a draft pick doesn’t pan out… Spezza might be movable in Ottawa but you forget he’s also getting $7 million a year and is under-performing…

      Considering what I saw at the WJC, Couturier does have the physical tools to play NHL (I’m thinking he might need 1 more year in junior though); Larrson was ‘okay’ but considering how brutal our D-core is, we can afford to give him more time. Marcinin has also a huge upside too and could be ready to play as soon as next year.