While an injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left the Edmonton Oilers scrambling for a centre prior to their tilt with the Calgary Flames, one that ultimately produced a 4-0 loss, the fact Todd Nelson decided to use Taylor Hall as his first line centre was rather perplexing. It may have been the easy move to make but it was also the wrong one. Something tells me this was not all on the head coach, as this organization seems unwilling to give up on the notion of using Hall at centre.
Edmonton - April 5, 2015 - If the decision to use Taylor Hall at centre ice during yesterday’s 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames was solely due to the fact Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was unable to suit up after taking a shot off his skate against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night, than it is no big deal.
With both Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon nursing injuries and Anton Lander the only healthy centre currently on this roster, Todd Nelson’s hands were essentially tied. He needed to make a move of some sort and throwing the former first overall pick in between in the duo of Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot against the surprising Flames was likely a rather easy decision for the forty-five year old bench boss, albeit not necessarily the right one.
To his credit, Hall tried to make the best of tough situation. He was just under 50% in the face off dot, showed a willingness to take on the extra defensive responsibilities that comes with playing in the middle of the rink but outside of a handful of shifts, the Oilers No. 4 looked lost for much of the evening. He was clearly out of his element but again, the effort was there and that is about all anyone could have expected from the situation.
This organization’s lack of depth down the middle has been well documented but the fact Edmonton still entertains the thought of turning their best winger into a centre at the first sight of injury to one of their top two centres, is downright staggering and freighting at the same time. Again, while this may have been just been one of those “situations”, Nelson could have just as easily bumped Anton Lander into a top six role and used both Matt Hendricks and Rob Klinkhammer on the third and fourth lines.
Is that an ideal set-up? Far from it but putting Hall in a situation he has openly stated being uncomfortable in, makes no sense…especially with this team doing nothing more than playing out the string. Let’s not forget that the twenty-three year old has just recently returned from a twenty game absence and is still trying to find his legs in what has likely been the most frustrating year of his career. One would think the “smart” move would have been to allow him to simply continue down that path and have him finish off the year on a positive note but making the “smart” move is something this franchise has struggled mightily with for some time now.
In my mind, last night proved there are still those inside this organization who believe Taylor Hall can be a legitimate option as a centre at the National Hockey League level and that is frankly a scary thought. Unless you are blind or have not been paying attention, when healthy, this kid is among the very best offensive wingers in the game today and has made it abundantly clear that is where he wants to remain. Seems pretty straight forward and yet there he was, back at centre in Game No. 79 in what has turned out to be yet another wasted season in the Alberta capital. Confused? You are not alone.
There is no question Craig MacTavish desperately wants to improve his depth at centre prior to the start of the 2015-16 campaign and has clearly come to the realization that could be fairly difficult to accomplish. With that said, trying to turn arguably your best player into something he is not is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. Both sides gave it a shot and it did not work. There was no harm in looking at it last year but accept the situation for what it was and turn the page already.
Rob Soria is the Edmonton Oilers' correspondent for OurHometown.ca. Rob was born and raised in Edmonton and is the author of the Edmonton Oilers blog - OilDrop.ca. He has been a dedicated follower of the game and its history for years but his focus remains on his hometown Edmonton Oilers. If you have questions or wish to contact Rob, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org