In just a few days it seems the problem that’s caused the Leafs (and their fans) the most headaches in recent years might be solved. Toronto has apparently gone from having no centers to all the centers.
Well, maybe not so fast. But they’re definitely trying.
The Leafs have had a glaring weakness in their lineup for a while now, and many other teams have fallen in the same boat. Acquiring an elite-level center is nearly impossible it seems, and in the last two summers Toronto has, somewhat oddly, managed to draft two top-notch prospects – Marner and Nylander – who can both play wing and down the middle. Because of their size, however, they’ve gone on to be projected as wingers at the NHL level by most. But that might have to change.
Last week after the Leafs drafted Mitch Marner, he indicated to Sportsnet that the plan for this upcoming season is for him to develop his game as a center. With his OHL club, the Knights, he’d played some minutes there, but it wasn’t a full-time gig. It sounds as though Mark Hunter will send him back to London this fall with hopes of him eventually being ready for the NHL as a pivot.
“That’s what [co-interim GM] Mark [Hunter] told me,” Marner told George Rusic and Ben Ennis on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Monday morning. “He wants me playing centre in a few years, so that’s what I’ve got to start working on.”
This is probably the way for the Leafs to go, since if they believe Marner is capable of playing the position at an elite rate – and we’ll find out if he is – they need to address this need, finally. But Kyle Dubas doubled down on the team’s focus in this area today when he mentioned that William Nylander will go into his second stint with the Marlies playing down the middle.
Kyle Dubas tells media William Nylander will play centre for the Marlies this season adding Matt Finn will bounce back as a 2nd year pro.
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) July 9, 2015
How this will turn out is anyone’s guess, since, like we mentioned, these players projected mostly as wingers over the last year or so. Obviously the Leafs’ brass has seen enough of both of them to put them on this track, however, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can develop that way.
Even if the Leafs manage to turn one of these prospects into a legitimate top-line center, it’ll be a major boost to their rebuild.