Taylor Hall's journey to superstardom took a step in the right direction last season when the Edmonton Oilers winger led the team in scoring and displayed the leadership of a future captain.
As the former No. 1 draft pick attempts join the upper echelon of NHL players in 2013-14, moving from left wing to center at the start of the season is going to have a major impact on his development.
With the Oilers lacking depth down the middle because of Shawn Horcoff's offseason departure and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' injury, Edmonton is expected to make a bold move by giving Hall more responsibilities as a top-six center.
Taking a player who dominated on the wing with 50 points in 45 games and shifting him to center doesn't sound ideal, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that Hall is capable of making a successful transition.
Before we determine if a position change will help Hall reach superstardom, it's important to examine if the Calgary native is a good fit for this kind of role.
As a player with rapidly developing playmaking skills, the change to center and having more of the ice to create scoring chances will benefit the Oilers offense. The 22-year-old's assists totals have risen in all three of his NHL seasons, including a career-high 34 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. His exceptional vision, stick handling and offensive awareness makes him well-suited for an everyday role at center.
Hall already plays a physical game, and when you combine his upper-body strength with the ability to carry the puck through traffic, he should have no problem skating through the neutral zone to begin the Oilers' rush towards the opposing net.
Given Edmonton's wealth of quick, highly skilled wingers, Hall would have plenty of teammates to create scoring chances for in the attacking zone.
After assessing the likelihood of Hall succeeding at center offensively, it's hard to find any reasons why he wouldn't be a point-per-game player in the middle.
The biggest issue with moving Hall to center is that the speed element of his game may be lessened. His impressive skating ability and speed through the neutral zone makes him a difficult player to defend, but as a center, he won't be flying down the wings as often.
With that said, a case can also be made that with more ice to work with as a center, Hall will use his speed to give opposing defensemen even more matchup nightmares than he did at left wing in 2013. A lot of the best center-men of this generation, including Mike Modano, Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman, combined a high level of skill with toughness and speed to dominate offensively. Hall definitely has the talent to be that kind of player.
When you look at Hall's defensive statistics from last season, there's enough reason to believe he can improve in his own end by playing center.
There's no question that Hall possesses the work ethic required for defensive improvement, so it wouldn't be surprising if giving him more of the ice to defend and increased responsibilities produces successful results. As we saw last season, Hall is fully capable of creating turnovers and turning good defense into odd-man rushes at the other end of the ice.
He's only taken 215 draws with just one season above a 50 percent success rate, but his improvement on faceoffs last season was an encouraging sign for the Oilers. Winning faceoffs was a major weakness for Edmonton in 2013, evidenced by its 30th-ranked finish in faceoff percentage.
As a player who's gotten better at faceoffs and worked on this skill during the summer, Hall should be able to improve the team in this aspect of the game next year while at the same time making himself a more complete player.
Putting Hall at center may seem like a risk to fans who don't see the need to change something that worked so well last season. While these people have a valid point, based on his skill set, making this change won't have a negative impact on Hall's development as a superstar.
Playing center will help him become a more well-rounded and better player in all three zones while expediting his ascent to the upper echelon of NHL stars.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft. All quotes obtained first hand.
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