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Having Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler as an option at centre

Reaction to the move of the captain from wing to centre.

The Jets have, out of necessity or desperation, been required to move players from their natural position to somewhere else in the lineup to help fill a need.  The most significant example of this was when former Jets coach Claude Noel moved Dustin Byfuglien from his preferred spot on defence up to the wing.

Photo Credit: Colin Jensen

Photo Credit: Colin Jensen

When top centre Mark Scheifele was ruled out of the game against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday it was assumed by many (yours truly included) that Mathieu Perreault would slide back to his natural centre position from the wing where he had been started by coach Maurice on Thursday against the Oilers to ease him back into the lineup.  The thought was that Bryan Little would slide back into the top spot and Perreault would fit into that 2C role with Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford as his wingers.  Rounding out the Jets centres would be Adam Lowry at 3C and Alexander Burmistrov at 4C.

Instead coach Maurice flipped Perreault and Wheeler choosing to use his big captain in that middle spot on the second line.  The Jets beat the Blues in a close, tough game won in OT by a Winnipeg team desperate for a road victory, especially against a central division opponent.  After the game Wheeler was asked about playing centre and how it was different from playing wing “It’s all about timing.  I try to use my legs in that open ice…I just tried to read off my wingers, they did an unbelievable job, helped me in the faceoff dot a little bit, won me a few draws…made it easy for me.”

Photo Credit: Colby Spence

Photo Credit: Colby Spence

Coach Maurice was also asked about Wheeler’s play at centre “What a great thing it would be to have that in your pocket.  We’ve lost Mark and Bryan and they leave such huge holes.  For him to come into the middle and look like he’s played there his whole career, that’s great for us going forward.”

The Jets didn’t have a lot of time between St. Louis and Chicago and while coach Maurice had indicated on Saturday that Mark Scheifele could possibly play on Sunday it turned out he wasn’t quite ready so the Jets bench boss left his lines intact from the previous game, which included Wheeler at centre.

Prior to puck drop at the United Center, coach Maurice met with the media and the topic of Wheeler at centre came up again, including Wheeler’s willingness to move to centre “He went into centre and was exceptional and he was still thinking about ways he could be better at it this morning.  Ways he that he could get out of holes differently….His positioning was bang on.”  He was also asked about Wheeler having to play different defensively at centre versus wing “He gets the puck in different areas now, he touches the puck more and he’s a big strong man down low.  Gives you pause, makes you wonder”.  The latter part of that answer gave me pause, made me wonder what the bench boss might be mulling in the future for his captain.

Once puck dropped 26 was at centre and the Jets had another gritty effort which resulted in a Winnipeg win and a sweep of their two-game central division road trip.

Inevitably the topic of Wheeler at centre was discussed in the post-game scrums and coach Maurice was effusive in his praise “That’s a tough back to back as a centreman.  Those guys and the defencemen carry most of the weight in your own end.  Really good there” and when pushed about whether he would could see Wheeler staying there Maurice didn’t dismiss the notion indicating “if we thought we had enough wingers to support it offensively, then we would look at it.  It’s something to really consider cause, next weekend is our sixth back to back which leaves us with eight more.  If you could run those four centremen on a back to back night, you could really run your bench then.  So the answer is ya, we’ve thought about it, but I don’t think there are enough wingers to make this work.”

While I don’t think we will see Blake Wheeler taking the centre spot over Mark Scheifele or Bryan Little anytime soon it appears that coach Maurice likes having that option in his deck of cards.