Oilers ponder whether Hall could line up at centre



EDMONTON — In the ongoing Taylor vs. Tyler debate, scouts are torn on who should be the Edmonton Oilers’ No. 1 pick at Friday’s NHL entry draft.

They’re also torn on whether left-winger Taylor Hall could play centre in the NHL — centre being one of the Oilers’ greatest needs — something that could tilt the debate on who should be No. 1 in Hall’s favour.

While Tyler Seguin is a natural centre, Hall told reporters more than a week ago that he has played in the middle plenty in the past, including earlier in his stellar career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires.

Some scouts think Hall would need to work hard learning to win faceoffs — no mean feat.

Others don’t feel Hall thinks pass-first. Hockey-savvy wise, he grabs the puck and goes with it, like the great Oiler Hall-of-Fame winger Glenn Anderson did in the team’s glory years.

Still others believe Hall would have no trouble moving into the middle.

“What Taylor is is a great hockey player. He can play wherever,” said E.J. McGuire, head of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, which ranks the draft-eligible players every year. “There would be an adjustment period and a bit of a learning curve, but he is a star hockey player. Scotty Bowman had (Sergei) Fedorov playing defence in Detroit and he did a pretty good job.

“I’m real good at coaching other people’s teams, mind you. Why make John Tavares into a checker, why make Taylor Hall into a centre? He would have to learn faceoffs, but in today’s game, after the puck is dropped, I would be hard-pressed to tell you who the centreman is.”

Hockey Canada’s chief scout Al Murray doesn’t see Hall excelling in the middle.

“I’ve only seen Taylor play wing. He has tremendous one-on-one ability and great ability to get a pass in stride,” said Murray. “His strength lies there, rather than as a playmaker. As a centre, you have to think of moving the puck up first.

“I would be surprised if he could play centre,” said another longtime NHL scout. “He would be better on the wing with a centre who gets him the puck when he’s flying down the wing. He plays a reckless game (off the wing), but you can’t play centre that way. He’s a good passer but definitely wants the puck, and often the only time you get it back is when he’s run out of every option. His strength is off the wing. You want him going to the net.

“But he gets results and you put him with good players (in the NHL), he’ll be fine,” the scout added.

Hall’s junior GM Warren Rychel says his prized player can play anywhere.

“If you draft Taylor and need a centre, then put him at centre. That’s his natural position. He skates so well he can cover a lot of ice,” said Rychel.

Hall likes the puck in flight. Centres also have to distribute it, and sometimes slow the play down, and have to be strong two-way players down low in the defensive zone.

“It’s easier to move from centre to the wing than the other way around because you have so many defensive responsibilities as a centre,” said Murray. “A centre has to think like a point guard in basketball, moving the ball down the floor, as opposed to just taking it yourself. In hockey, a winger is usually a bit ahead of the play and getting the puck from the centre and doesn’t have the options in front of him a centre has.”

Edmonton Journal


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