September 19, 2010
The start of NHL training camps has already produced two seismic shifts within the lineups of the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks: Ilya Kovalchuk's(notes) move from left to right wing for the former, and Bobby Ryan's(notes) switch from the wing to center for the latter.
Both moves were inspired by different necessities. The Devils currently have more high-ranking left wingers than a primetime talk show on MSNBC: Kovalchuk, Zach Parise(notes) and Patrik Elias(notes), who could top-line for the majority of NHL. The Ducks were top-loaded with Ryan, Corey Perry(notes) and Ryan Getzlaf(notes) on their No. 1 line. If Ryan can work as a second-line pivot, it could be one of the most formidable center combos in the West and would allow Saku Koivu(notes) to invigorate the lower part of the lineup.
Question is: Will either of them work, and for how long?
At the start of Devils camp, Kovalchuk was lined up with Travis Zajac(notes) at center and Zach Parise on left wing. According to Dobber Hockey's linemate tracker, it's a line combination that saw the ice rather briefly during Kovalchuk's 27 regular-season games and (much like the Devils) basically didn't show up at all in the team's first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice reports that all three players "moved around a lot" during practice, including Parise on the right and Kovalchuk on the left. The Devils' $100-million man didn't flinch:
"It's pretty much the same, but I'll need a couple of days and a couple of games to adjust and I told (Parise) if I'm going to be on his side, just let me know and I will go back on the right."
Kovalchuk didn't know for sure if the move will move, but seemed very open to trying it. "We'll see," he said "I'm not used to it, but, like I said, to play with those two guys, I'd play in goal. I have to because those are two great players and I think we're going to have great chemistry. We're going to work hard."
Coach John MacLean liked what he saw on Day 1, but said that change is still an option. From Fire and Ice:
Q. Why did you choose to move Kovalchuk to the right side and not Parise?
"No great thinking there. Zach is a left shot and Kovy is a right shot. They're both very adaptable, great players and we'll see what the chemistry is."
Q. So, you'd rather both of those guys playing their on wing rather than the off side?
"Yeah, we're trying it. In fairness, you could go the other way. Zach has never played right wing before either. But I just thought with the right-hand shot, we'd try (Kovalchuk) over there,"
Ryan, meanwhile, began Ducks camp at center, with Coach Randy Carlyle thinking he could fit with Teemu Selanne(notes) and Jason Blake(notes), with Matt Beleskey(notes) up playing on the Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry line. From Ducks Blog:
"I think the way we're going to go forward is we're going to put Bobby Ryan at center to start and he has to fail at that position," Carlyle said. "We think it's a position that suits him and makes him more effective."
It is an intriguing prospect. Ryan can play a power forward's game but he also has the stick-handling skills to be a playmaker and potentially give the Ducks some serious depth down the middle with Getzlaf and Saku Koivu.
"It's a different feeling skating the puck up through the center than it is on the wing and where your options are when involved through the center," said Ryan, who had 35 goals last season. "Hopefully I'll get comfortable over the next couple of days here."
I had a debate over Twitter last week over Damien Cox's contention that Bobby Ryan was "a potential 50-goal scorer," which I feel is a lofty number for any player and not a label easily applied.
If the move to center sticks, does that make him more or less likely to be a 50-goal man? Consider the names that have hit it since the lockout: Alex Ovechkin(notes), Sidney Crosby(notes), Steven Stamkos(notes), Jarome Iginla(notes), Dany Heatley(notes), Kovalchuk, Vincent Lecavalier(notes), Jaromir Jagr(notes) and the anomaly that was Jonathan Cheechoo(notes). Three of the seven were centers when they broke the 50-goal ceiling.
Will Kovalchuk stick on right wing? It's probable. MacLean likes Elias on left wing and the Devils have to tread lightly with Parise, who's not only in a contract year but just saw a team that should consider him a franchise player sign Ilya Kovalchuk to $100 million for having won a single playoff game in his career.
Will Ryan stick at center? It's a smart experiment for the Ducks, given Ryan's playmaking ability and size. Defensive assignments are a concern; and Ryan was 44.1 percent in 93 faceoff attempts last season. Whether this works or not will obviously be determined by the line's production. Ryan went scoreless in eight of his first 12 games last season; he could fare better as a center in October.
What say you? Who's shuffled around the lineup first: Kovalchuk or Ryan?