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Patrik Laine is open to playing center (even if he’s horrible defensively)
Patrik Laine has been rolling in the NHL for seven years now. Drafted second in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (just behind Auston Matthews), the winger began his career before being traded to Columbus in exchange for a certain Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Now 25, we generally have a good idea of the Finnish forward’s profile: he’s an excellent goalscorer and a great asset in the offensive zone, but defensively, he’s a bit of a pain. That’s not so bad considering he’s paid to score and not to defend, but it’s far from glorious in his own zone.

And that’s why I almost jumped when I saw that Laine confessed to NHL. com that he’s open to playing center next season.

At least, he’s working on a variety of things this summer, and if Mike Babcock wants to try him out at center, he’ll be ready.

It’s important to note, however, that Laine (very briefly) played center last year. In fact, he played two games in this position at the end of the season before injuring his triceps, which put an end to his season.

It was the success of winger-turned-center Tage Thompson that prompted the Blue Jackets to take the gamble.

Offensively, he had done well, collecting two assists in each of his two games. In the face-off circle, however, he had a tough time, winning only 35% of his duels last year.

And clearly, we’re not talking about a Patrice Bergeron when it comes to defensive play.

In fact, it might not be a bad thing for the Blue Jackets to play him with Johnny Gaudreau and a youngster like Kirill Marchenko or Kent Johnson on the first line. This would be a purely offensive trio, with the potential to score goals on a regular basis.

Babcock obviously didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself on the subject, but you can sense that he’s not closed to the idea. That said, we also sense that he wants to focus on guys who excel in the face-off circle.

On the other hand, I wonder how necessary it would be to move Laine to the center, considering there’s already depth at that position in town. Boone Jenner will still have an important role, youngsters Adam Fantilli and Cole Sillinger could push for playing time, Dmitri Voronkov is a good youngster from the KHL and can play center, Sean Kuraly will still be there and guys like Jack Roslovic and Kent Johnson have experience at center.

If the club wants offensive options at center, it already has them: is it really necessary to pack Laine out to get another center?

In my opinion, seeing Laine play more regularly on the right wing (he’s right-handed, but he plays more often on the left) would help his club a lot more than sending him to center. That way, he could be paired with Gaudreau and a guy like Jenner in the middle of a first trio that’s much more balanced and offensive nonetheless.

I can’t wait to see what the Blue Jackets do with their Finnish winger, but it’s clearly an intriguing prospect. Laine at center, do we like it or not?

In bursts

– Speaking of the Blue Jackets.

– Rafaël Harvey-Pinard is at the Kevin Raphaël Classic today.

– Evgeny Kuznetsov’s IIHF suspension is over.

– Interesting.

– The Raptors offer a contract to a youngster who stole the show this summer. My text on the subject.

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