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.
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.