The Inevitable Question: What Happens To The Fourth Line If Wolski Returns?October 15, 2011, by
When news broke of the new lines, specifically with Wojtek Wolski out with an injury, and Erik Christensen centering Mike Rupp and Mats Zuccarello, the outside question was about what would happen should Wolski return. Wolski won’t be out forever, and he is certainly an upgrade over Christensen, but they do not play the same position. In fact, none on that fourth line are true centers, only Rupp has played the position to any success.
For the sake of this post, let’s hope that the top three lines click and don’t need any tinkering. Now that that’s out of the way, we can look at the four players who would compete for the three spots in the lineup, of which three are considered to be wingers. The one center –Christensen– is likely to be the one scratched should Wolski return to the lineup. This is what we would call an interesting situation.
Last season, Christensen won 49.4% of his face offs (over 600 taken). That’s not all that great, and certainly not a reason to keep him in the lineup. As for Rupp, he won 50.6% of his face offs, but only took 162 (82 won) last year. His past years with the Penguins and Devils don’t help much either, as his numbers fluctuated from poor (44%) to decent (51%), but he never took more than 160 in a season. It’s tough to say how well he would do with full time center duties, but he’s an under 50% career in the circle.
In a pinch, Rupp could fake it as a center, but Christensen is really the only true center among those four. It’s interesting to note that Kris Newbury is pretty good with face offs (60% last year, small sample size), and he would likely be the first call up for injury.
There is always going to be the talk of trades, but it’s too early in the season for that. Plus, you never know what happens with injuries. Ryan Callahan is good for an injury a season with the way he plays, so having bodies around isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Generally, someone plays their way out of the lineup, so this “problem” may solve itself in time.