The Chicago Blackhawks lost in a shootout to the rival Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night. As exciting as preseason shootouts can be, the biggest news from Joe Louis Arena may not have come from the ice—but from the Blackhawks head coach’s postgame comments. Joel Quenneville shared with assorted media members that the coaching staff is looking at star winger Patrick Kane as a possible solution for Chicago’s gaping hole at center on the second line.
The announcement is a bit surprising in that it was assumed that Patrick Sharp was going to make the move from wing to center this season. Sharp has played center at times with both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks over the course of his career. Last season, the #10 Train had a career year with 34 goals and 37 assists for the Hawks while playing mostly on the wing.
Sharp still may end up being the long-term replacement for Troy Brouwer for the Hawks this season. But Quenneville’s public statements mean that the organization plans on giving Kane a serious look. In fact, this has been going on for a while in practices during training camp this year. He told CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers that, “he’s been playing center throughout scrimmages and practices now and we’ll see.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Patrick Kane has ever played center. He has experience and Quenneville thinks he might be able to play the all-around game expected from an NHL pivot:
“He’s played center most of his life. Defensively, he’s gotten better as he’s grown… down low on the walls. It’s something we’re going to at least take a look at.”
The obvious changes from wing to center are the defensive responsibilities and faceoff duties. Kane only took 14 face-offs all season—and only won two of them. But another change that isn’t as well publicized, is the difference for a center when the team breaks out of their own zone. Wingers are usually looking back at the play, while centers can see the entire ice in front of them. Players with good vision (like Kane) can see the play develop with all of the action unfolding up the ice. For highly-skilled forwards, transitioning to the center position can be easier than transitioning to wing.
Whether the Hawks decide to move Kane, Sharp, or a prospect like Marcus Kruger to center, figuring out the second line pivot is one of the more important decisions the coaching staff will make in training camp. Jonathan Toews has the top center position locked up for the next twenty years and Dave Bolland has established himself as a premier shutdown defender. Guys like Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers may prove they can play center on the fourth line, leaving the noticeable void on the second line.
It’s intriguing to hear that Chicago is considering a player like Kane at center. Not only is it interesting that they’d split up the Toews/Kane duo, but seeing Kane put in a position to create offensive with a pair of wingers, is something that could be interesting. Guys like Daniel Briere and Derek Roy have been proving that centers no longer need to be the 6’4”, 230 lbs imposing physical forces they used to be. Then again, not everyone can make the transition with the increased defensive duties.
Since it’s the preseason, what do you think? Would you like to see Patrick Kane play center for a few games, or do you think it’s pointless to mess with a good thing?