Leafs trying to get two elite centers in the prospect pipeline

In just a few days it seems the problem that’s caused the Leafs (and their fans) the most headaches in recent years might be solved. Toronto has apparently gone from having no centers to all the centers. 

Well, maybe not so fast. But they’re definitely trying.

The Leafs have had a glaring weakness in their lineup for a while now, and many other teams have fallen in the same boat. Acquiring an elite-level center is nearly impossible it seems, and in the last two summers Toronto has, somewhat oddly, managed to draft two top-notch prospects – Marner and Nylander – who can both play wing and down the middle. Because of their size, however, they’ve gone on to be projected as wingers at the NHL level by most. But that might have to change.

Last week after the Leafs drafted Mitch Marner, he indicated to Sportsnet that the plan for this upcoming season is for him to develop his game as a center. With his OHL club, the Knights, he’d played some minutes there, but it wasn’t a full-time gig. It sounds as though Mark Hunter will send him back to London this fall with hopes of him eventually being ready for the NHL as a pivot.

“That’s what [co-interim GM] Mark [Hunter] told me,” Marner told George Rusic and Ben Ennis on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Monday morning. “He wants me playing centre in a few years, so that’s what I’ve got to start working on.”

This is probably the way for the Leafs to go, since if they believe Marner is capable of playing the position at an elite rate – and we’ll find out if he is – they need to address this need, finally. But Kyle Dubas doubled down on the team’s focus in this area today when he mentioned that William Nylander will go into his second stint with the Marlies playing down the middle.

How this will turn out is anyone’s guess, since, like we mentioned, these players projected mostly as wingers over the last year or so. Obviously the Leafs’ brass has seen enough of both of them to put them on this track, however, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can develop that way. 

Even if the Leafs manage to turn one of these prospects into a legitimate top-line center, it’ll be a major boost to their rebuild. 

  • silentbob

    With Marner & the Knightsit makes sense (I’ve posted my Tkachuk – Leafs prediction a few times)

    With Nylander I’m a bit less….on board I guess (though not really against it either). From what I know of the players, Marner is a pretty good two-way player already while Nylander is still lacking in that area, which would make the wing a better place for him. While you do want and need strength down the middle, you don’t want to be left with nothing on the wing either. I think I’d rather pencil Nylander and Marner into playing on the same line in the future.

    Plus doesn’t/Hasn’t Kapanen already started to make that adjustment (plus he is pretty responsible in his own zone already as well)? And remember the Leafs are going to be drafting pretty early the next few years, I’d say its likely that they are in a position to add at least one more elite center if they do.

    • SEER

      I have to agree, although I think Nylander is a bit bigger so he may be more physically suited to the role. Maybe that’s why they’re giving him a bump over to center.

      Regardless, I’ve loved seeing some of the development clips from both of these guys – so skilled. I see many dirty dangles in the future for the Leafs.

    • Brooksterman

      Right now Nylander has the inside track to being a centre over Marner because as Hunter has said since drafting Marner, they think he can play centre but only if he gains muscle mass which Nylander has done already and Marner has said he tends to struggle with doing.

      I’d rather have too many centres and not enough wingers than have too many wingers and not enough centres. The last 5 years should be enough of an example for that. It’s a lot easier to hid a 3rd line winger in the top six with skilled centres than it is to hide a 3rd line centre in the top 6 with skilled wingers.

      Besides if Kadri has a good year and is locked up long term then I would guess 2 of him, Nylander, and Marner end up on the wing as next year I could see them ending up with one of Austin Mathiews or Logan Brown or another centre in 2017. Plus considering if Gauthier keeps developing like he has then he probably will be the number 3 centre but plays 2nd line centre minutes between killing penalties, taking all the key faceoffs, and getting lots of ice time late in games when holding leads or shut down responsibilities against other top 6 centres. Dubas did say after all that Gauthier is a type of player Babcock loves (ie. Glendening).

      • silentbob

        They said they expect marner to play center for them, and that he’ll have to out on weight to play in the NHL.

        Defensive accumin is more important for a center then size, which is why Nylander shiuld be #3 on the list to make the change.

        You can play th what if game for a week.

        • Brooksterman

          Dubas did say today that they see Nylander as a centre and the plan was always to move him back to centre this year. Putting him on the wing was basically only until he got comfortable playing on a different sized ice surface. Since they want him to play centre this year it’s why I can’t see him making the NHL team no matter how he plays in camp or even if they can move Bozak and/or Lupul.

  • SEER

    Another good Blog, Ryan..

    I was reading on some other Leaf site, that people think William looks fat.. because his neck looks larger…and I had to laugh out loud…

    He’s not fat at all.. In fact, it looks to me like he has added on some more muscle.. (which is just what they wanted him to do)… Love the fact, that most of the coaching and management staff has said that they don’t have to ask him to do anything, because he is the one who points out his faults, first… Very “Sundin-like” in his approach to training and honing his skills..

    Well.. As Most know, I’ve been going double-time with the video-making… and here is the final 2015 Draft Prospect video, just loaded about an hour ago… There is now individual player videos for all of our 2015 Draft prospects.. and I hope to catch up with some of the other prospects, by season start..


    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRhEtVdhX34

    By the way…., for all you Blog-makers…, I have also now got all the playlists organized and set to “public”, if you ever want to post a whole playlist in one video post, for your blogs… They will all play one after another… And this goes for all the playlists on my You-Tube Channel..

    And I thank all the people who have viewed the new Sundin Tribute, that I made yesterday… I guess it wasn’t too long, after all.. : )

    Have a great night, everyone..!

  • SEER

    Nylander second line centre then, and for the love of God, please let this just be experimental for Marner, just so he gets some complete experience…. Let his do his job and play 1st line wing… Imagine Marner playing 1st centre against a guy like Ghetzlaf in a 7 game playoff series… Just wouldn’t be right. They said they were gonna do things right, so they NEED to get a natural centreman for the 1st line.

  • silentbob

    Two player who can play center on the 1st Line
    is a positive thing.

    When one player gets thrown out of the faceoff circle then you have a better chance of winning the draw as well more creative plays can be implemented when two players switch assignments.

    As well this has the possibility of mixing up defenses.

    As well as what the Leafs are trying eg switching Nylander to center, better to just be a spectator
    and let the pros make the assessment on such matters.
    If it’s not working they will be the first to know.

    At the developing stage players can be better molded
    than established star players.

    PS without the 1st line having a league worse +/-
    I’m not sure why everyone thinks the Leafs will be so bad next year- sure the Leafs will miss the 35 goals Kessel would normally score, but there won’t be the 45 goals scored against the Leafs when he would be on the ice.

  • silentbob

    why are so many people talking like Nylander at center is an experiment, and a new development. There are only a handful of 17 or 18 year-olds in the SEL, and they get few minutes and fewer points. Nylander started last season on course to lead the league in scoring, as a 1st line center; wing is an experiment. Also, the defensive responsibilities of a center are not a law; just ask gretski and lemieux. nylander never practiced much ‘defence’ because for the last ten years he’s been scoring at the rate of 2ppg spending all the time in the other team’s end. it’s just some simple habits, not an elite skill.