The benefits of switching Gaborik to LW

January 18, 2013, by
Photo credit: Jim McIsaac

Photo credit: Jim McIsaac

One of the bigger stories during minicamp has been the position switch made by Marian Gaborik. Gaborik, a left-handed shot, has played the off-wing his entire career, until now. This season, Gaborik will at least start the year on the left side, with Derek Stepan as his center and Ryan Callahan as his right wing (the other top line is Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Rick Nash). Many –including myself– assumed it would be Nash playing on the left side, something he’s done in the past. But Gaborik on the left side offers some very important benefits.

Spreading out the defense

Torts decided to resist the urge of putting together a super line of Nash-Richards-Gaborik, which would surely draw the top defensive assignments from both the blue liners and top defensive forwards in league. By keeping one of the wingers off the line, and with another very competent center in Stepan, the Rangers will force teams to spread out their defensive assignments, making them more vulnerable to miscues. This is something we talked a lot about last year with Torts’ line juggling.

Stepan is a right-handed center

Ever try to make a perfectly accurate saucer pass on your backhand? It’s incredibly difficult, even for NHLers. Since Stepan is a right-handed shot, his natural passing lane is to his LW. Sure, he can pass to his RW on his forehand, but to do so he must shift his body position in such a manner that telegraphs the pass. A player like Gaborik is a game changer, and all he needs is the puck. Shifting him to the LW makes it easier on Stepan to get him the puck.

Defensive zone board play

In the defensive zone, a player on the off-wing has their forehand towards the middle of the ice, not the boards. The first rule in hockey is don’t clear up the middle, but the off-wing is positioned to do that very thing. Gaborik will be better positioned to help transition to offense, as getting the puck out of the zone along the boards is obviously the safer play.

Offensive zone board play

In the offensive zone, Gaborik’s forehand will be along the boards, which makes it easier for him to accept a pass along the boards and keep the cycle going. Puck possession is an important aspect in wearing down the defense. It is much easier for a player to cycle the puck down the boards on his forehand. This concept also rings true for keeping the puck in the zone.

Face offs

Huh? Face offs? Yes, face offs. Many draws are not won clean, they are won with the assistance of a winger, who will draw the puck back to his defensemen. Going back to the it’s-easier-to-pass-from-your-forehand point above, Gaborik will have an easier time assisting Stepan in the face off circle. If Stepan is capable of tying up the opposing center, that leaves Gaborik with enough time to help him out.

There are some drawbacks to switching Gaborik, specifically his one-timer ability will take a hit (at even strength) and he may need some tie to adjust to the new defensive zone coverage (he’s covering the opposite point man now). Gaborik is an elite player who will definitely be able to make the necessary adjustments in the position switch. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks in this scenario, and it’s going to be fun to watch Gaborik play LW this year.

Categories : Hockey Tactics


  1. Tim B says:

    Good post as always.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks, much appreciated.

      • The Suit says:

        Being an x’s and o’s guys, I dig this post. Agree on all counts. Plus as I said last week, Gabby shoots better from the left side anyway. So this could be a great strategic move by Torts.

  2. Mikeyyy says:

    Not sure I agree just yet.

    Dude scored many goals last year. Why change it up?

    He needs a few plays designed around his one timer.

  3. Walt says:

    I think this will work out well. As stated, Gabby is a pro, and this should make him release his shot quicker, when receiving a pass from Step.

    I’m more excited at the fact that we now have two very good offensive lines, and the defense has to work all night long to keep us off of the score board!

    Read that the Bluejackets sent Erixon to the AHL, Slats knew what he was doing when he traded the kid!

    • Matt Josephs says:

      I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the Erixon is a bust train just yet. CBJ’s defense isn’t great, but they have a lot of decent bodies. Erixon likely needs to go back to AHL this year and bulk up over the summer. He has all the tools of a top 4 D.

    • Dave says:

      The BJs have a stacked blue line. I’m not surprised they sent him to the AHL. He will make the team next year after Adrian Aucoin is let go.

  4. Matt Josephs says:

    Good post Dave. A few days ago, was skeptical about this move, but over time I think I see the benefits more and more. Gaborik said he likes shooting from left, and that’s more than enough convincing I need to think he should play there.

  5. ranger17 says:

    Watched practice yesterday . PP had Cally playing in the middle on the first unit with BR at the point , only problem with that is Cally can’t take draws , you need to win the face off to keep the puck in the zone . first unit BR and MDZ at the point Nash Boyle and Hags up front second unit McD Staal Stepan Gabby and Cally. . I would even like to see BR MDZ at points with the entire third line up front at some point Kreider at 6.3 is the small guy of the group. I am looking forward to see what the third line can do in a game , they are hugh and will be tough to defend

    • Dave says:

      Richards will take the draws, and they will shift once they gain possession of the puck. I wouldn’t worry about that.

  6. bogans says:

    While I agree that Gabby’s one timer could potentially take a bit of a hit, I gotta think working with Cally on his other wing is going to help to offset that. Cally is probably one of the elite puck collecters in the league. The guy can forecheck like nobody’s business and turns up a lot of pucks with the defense on their heels. Not only that, but being on a line with Cally and Step will leave Gabby with very few defensive responsibilities. That said, I expect this to remain a line for 3 games, not because it doesn’t work, but because Torts wants to see what else is possible.

  7. rickyrants13 says:

    They could have done the same thing Spread the D by moving him back to line 2 RW and moving Cally back to line 3 A third line of Pyatt Boyle Cally would have been a shutdown line that would have given teams fits

  8. Jerry says:

    The lines I would like.—hags—Richards—Nash./.Kreider–step–gabi-/-Pratt—Boyle—Cali./..rupp../.halpern../.ash..that’s what I see working out .two potential lights out top lines.agreat checking line.and a solid fourth line.

    • Spozo says:

      Calmly scored 29 goals last year. You don’t put that on a third line shutdown pair.

      • Spozo says:

        Cally. Damn iPhone autocorrect!

      • Dave says:

        A third line doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t allowed to score. Plenty of teams have offensively gifted third lines.

      • rickyrants13 says:

        Sure you do the Devils made lines like that all the time. A great def line with a counter punch. Cally is better suited for that then Kreider hands down. And you dont groom a guy like Kreider for such a roll.

  9. Jerry says:

    Exactly that’s why I say give Kreider the second line spot.cali is a great two way player.

  10. Marc Weissman says:

    Totally agree with Gabby being on the left, but only because of his tendencies and how he likes to carry the puck.

    Unlike Mess, who was a left-handed shot but loved to shoot off the wrong foot coming down the right side, Gabby too often tries to cut to the middle as a left-handed shot on the right – but gets picked off by the D while doing so – instead of taking just advantage of the better shooting angle like Mark did so well. And even though Marian has less of a shooting angle as a left handed shot on the left side, he can still pick corners like there’s no tomorrow, so it makes sense why he’s comfortable there.

    Now, of course, all of this is really moot b/c lines change faster on this team than a NYC taxi meter, but assuming they are this way for the time being, these are my gut feelings. 🙂