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. ***