Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine skated at center in Sunday's 7-2 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights.
It was the first time in his now 461-regular-season-games career in which the 6'5" forward played anywhere other than on the wing. He tallied two assists and skated 17:32 while being flanked (primarily) by Johnny Gaudreau and Kirill Marchenko.
Projected lines in the bright light city— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 19, 2023
Going from playing wing to center may not sound like a dramatic difference - these are professional athletes shifting from one forward position to another - but it's totally different position in terms of defensive responsibilities and positioning.
#CBJ associate coach Pascal Vincent said Patrik Laine was the one who approached the staff and offered to help at center after the injury to Sean Kuraly.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) March 19, 2023
Laine on his first crack at it: Its a whole different world playing center, but I liked it. Theres a lot of things I need https://t.co/4pKBTKqKw4
In the short term, it could mean pain, which... over half of the respondents to our poll seem to think is not such a bad thing. After all, with just 13 games left in the regular season, the Blue Jackets are better served to lose these games with big-picture ramifications on the line with the May 8 Draft Lottery. Plus, there's the added benefit of having (potentially) another center option down the road when games have stakes.
Laine was realistic in his self-assessment but seemed to enjoy the assignment, adding that he was the one to bring the idea to the coaching staff after Sean Kuraly's injury.
After acting head coach, Pascal Vincent, put him in the center position for the first time, Patrik Laine said he enjoyed the position shift, saying that he's willing to work on his face-off.#CBJ pic.twitter.com/d3VeMJmJeB— Bally Sports Columbus (@BallySportsCBUS) March 19, 2023
It's commendable for Laine to request such a challenge, but he isn't exactly known for his defensive prowess and checking abilities at the wing, where the stakes are lower. In the middle of the ice, and down low in the defensive zone, it's easy for a missed assignment to turn into a goal against. That happened on the goal that made it 6-1. Laine was stuck backward skating in a defenseman's posture, and then got caught puck-watching as Chandler Stephenson skated the puck behind the net.
Chandler Stephenson slices through the opposition and sets up Paul Cotter to tally, 6-1 Golden Knights!#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/72uSKEoF56— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) March 19, 2023
The Blue Jackets intend to have a new-look lineup next season. Aside from Kuraly, it's fair to say that there could be three new centermen on the team next year, with players like Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic (and others) incumbents who are possibly better served on the wing.
But with just a handful of games remaining, the downside of trying Laine at center is so minimal that, well, why not?