John Tavares scored 24 goals and 54 points in 82 games last season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The game ‘Version 2.0’ gets played so often in the offices of THN you’d swear we were actual nerds, not just hockey nerds.
For those unfamiliar with the activity, Version 2.0 basically involves taking a player from a past era and determining which contemporary guy most mirrors his style of play. Our annual Yearbook featured an entire story devoted to this concept and in it TSN/NBC analyst Pierre McGuire noted Isles center John Tavares bore similarities to 500-goal man Dale Hawerchuk.
No argument here – especially considering how much McGuire knows about hockey. For me, one thing always comes to mind first when Tavares is the topic and it’s not a person; it’s a position.
I always have to remind myself the reason Tavares draws comparisons to Hawerchuk or Phil Esposito is because they were both scoring centers, not wingers. Try as I might, I can never fully wrap my brain around the fact Tavares is a pivot because he just seems so well suited to the wing.
When his name comes up, the comparables that jump to me are guys like Mike Bossy, Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull – triggermen, not middlemen.
By no means are certain skills and attributes exclusive to one position. I could easily be writing this blog about how Esposito wasn’t exactly the model of mobility, but he sure got it done at a position where the prevailing notion is you need to be speedy to succeed. Still, in broad strokes, centers tend to be creators, wingers the finishers. If somebody isn’t the world’s swiftest skater, but can thread the needle with the best of them, they tend to be shuffled off to the flanks, thereby restricting their responsibilities a bit and allowing them to focus on what they do best.
Then again, maybe the lines are being blurred a bit these days. At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, Bobby Ryan seems like the perfect big-bodied winger to bang and crash his way to NHL success, especially after seasons of 31 and 35 goals the past two campaigns skating on the starboard side.
But coach Randy Carlyle has said Ryan is moving to center and will have to “fail at that position” before he moves back.
You can certainly understand the logic; just look up from Ryan on the Anaheim depth chart and see Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks’ line of thinking becomes immediately clear.
Ryan already commented on the difference between carrying the puck through the neutral zone up the middle as opposed to navigating that territory as a winger.
"It's a different feeling skating the puck up through the center than it is on the wing and where your options are when involved through the center,” Ryan told the Orange County Register.
One thing I really took away from a recent conversation with Robitaille was the distinction between being quick versus being fast. Robitaille said he knew he was never going to skate like Mike Modano, but he could still hone that three-step quickness to track down a loose puck or get himself open.
That seems more like Tavares’ game to me. He appears more suited to slinking to the shadows rather than being the center of attention, lugging the puck into the offensive zone. Hull was a master at disappearing on the ice, then suddenly materializing in a prime scoring spot, just in time to unload a one-timer.
Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick from 2009, is talented enough that he could probably be given the position of team bus driver and still score. And it’s not exactly like the Isles have a ton of pivots who’ve shown they need to be bumped up the roster. But, down the road, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn the best version of Tavares can be found on the wing.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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