Oilers size Hall up at centre

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

DALLAS — The comparison to Mark Messier was a little too much, too soon for Taylor Hall.

When told Messier had begun his career as a winger before being moved to centre, the Edmonton Oilers rookie was apprehensive.

“I don’t like being compared to Mark Messier,” smiled Hall. “That comparison is a little bit much.”

Perhaps, but like Messier, Hall may get an opportunity to play at centre, skating between Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky at practice Monday in Dallas.

The rookie winger is expected to centre the top line when the Oilers face the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

“It’s taken me a little bit by surprise,” Hall said. “Tom (Renney) asked me about a week ago if I had ever played centre. I’ve played in junior before, so he must have been thinking about it.

“When you’re in a bit of a slump it’s good to change it up a little bit and try to find a combination that works. It’s going to be an adjustment, it’s a lot different than wing, but at the same time, it’s still hockey and I’m still excited to play.”

Hall goes into Tuesday’s game tied with Penner for a team-high 12 goals this season.

There had been talk of possibly moving the rookie sensation to centre prior to his being drafted, but has found himself exclusively on the wing so far this season.

“I think he can do it,” said Renney. “He has played a lot of centre in junior and we wanted to have a look at it (Monday) and whether or not we deliver on that tomorrow night remains to be seen.

“I think we’ll skate that way in the morning and see. But we’ll reserve judgment on that yet.”

With Shawn Horcoff still trying to work his way back in the lineup from a knee injury and Gilbert Brule out with a sore ankle, the Oilers head into their contest against the Stars a little thin down the middle.

“He’s played there before,” said Horcoff. “There is a lot of good skill on that line, it’ll be interesting to see how it works. The biggest difference is there is not going to be a lot of rest for him anymore. It’s constant work at centre, there is no down time. You’re either up the ice playing offence or you in the zone playing against other teams good lines, trying to contend with them, so there is not a lot of rest.

“But he’s got plenty of energy and plenty of legs, so I don’t see that being a problem for him.”

Heading up against the Stars top centre in Brad Richards, who leads his team in scoring with 49 points in 43 games, Hall will have his hands full, especially in the face-off circle.

Richards goes into the game having won 49.2% of his draws this season.

“That’s probably a guy that’s taken a lot of face-offs before and is certainly a player that has been around the league,” said Hall. “He’s having a great season again this year.

“That whole team, they have a lot of great players, especially at centre for sure.”

Without Horcoff in the lineup, the Oilers have struggled in the face-off circle this year. But odds are that Hall won’t have to take all of the draws when he’s on the ice, even if he’s centering the top line.

“If I happen to leave that trio together, I think Dustin can help him on the draws on the one side at least,” said Renney. “I think the biggest thing for him will be rush recognition, coming back, picking up the right people and sorting it out down low, making sure he’s a presence there.”

The Oilers head into the contest having lost eight of their last nine games and are looking for some type of spark. This is the second of a five-game road trip.

“At the wing you’re receiving the puck and at centre, you’re the one giving it,” Hall said. “You’re also attacking from the centre of the ice, not from along the wall. But I think, with my speed, maybe with some give-and-goes we can open up some opportunities for us.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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