A multitude of Toronto media members watched this morning’s practice with breathless anticipation, furiously tweeting every single mundane update out to their hungry followers.
I’d also like to add that I had some leftover casserole for lunch today.
The relevant news here, of course, is the fact left-winger James van Riemsdyk was lined up at the centre position between two highly skilled offensive players in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. The move was somewhat expected, but still noteworthy, because nobody’s really sure how the JvR experiment is going to work out, or if the Leafs are even going to try it in an actual game.
James van Riemsdyk has never played centre before in the National Hockey League. According to Jonas Siegel of TSN, he played the position at the University of New Hampshire, while Sean Gentille, in this Sporting News piece, said he was “drafted as a centre” out of the United States National Team Development Program.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard these JvR-to-centre rumours. Before the 2012-13 season, with Nazem Kadri still a relatively unknown NHL commodity, the rumours of JvR moving to the middle were rampant. Those never came to fruition, but with Dave Bolland looking to be out long-term after severing a tendon in the side of his ankle, and with Tyler Bozak out until at least November 19 with a hamstring injury, the Leafs don’t really have a choice but to try it.
A Lupul-JvR-Kessel line may potentially be very dangerous offensively, but it could also be very dangerous for the Leafs in their end of the ice. None of these players are known for their defensive prowess. With a natural winger playing the centre spot, those deficiencies could worsen considerably. The centre is relied on to support the defense in their end, and is usually responsible for being the safety valve in the offensive end to prevent an odd-man rush the other way. In short, I’m not convinced he can effectively learn the intricacies of playing centre in the NHL in five days.
The Leafs don’t play until Friday, so it’s best not to get worked up about lines during a Monday practice. There’s no harm in seeing how it goes anyway. The only real option the Leafs have at centre besides van Riemsdyk is Greg McKegg of the Marlies, and he’s never played in the league before. If it works out, then the Leafs could be fine. If it doesn’t, well, it’s time to start looking at Plans B, C or D.