The last center I recall Mark Messier playing wing for was Ken Linseman. The undersized pivot was a solid offensive player and agitator and put the other team off their game all the time. He was not in Messier’s class as a center but #11 played much of the early portion of his Oiler career on LW.
Messier’s development as a center took place over a period of years. Peter Gzowski in The Game Of Our Lives (written during the 80-81 season): Although he has been converted from center to left wing on Matti (Hagman’s) line, Sather still sends him out for crucial faceoffs. It is a favorite ploy to send him out with, for example, Stan Weir, then have Stan deliberately mix it up with the opposing center, get waived off by the referee and hand over the face-off duties to Messier to take against another winger.
Years later (1984) they were still talking about Messier’s move to center as a recent item; the discussion focused on the impact it had on the club’s first Stanley run:
The Oilers have the look of a team that is (or will soon be) out of balance (nothing new there). A team with outstanding wingers (Hall-Eberle, Smyth-Hemsky, Paajarvi-Omark) and perhaps in need of a man in the middle.
Who is the better candidate to move to center? Hall has played center in junior and coach Renney talked about it last season (Hall even took some faceoffs during the year). Eberle has the brains for the position and Paajarvi’s experience as a defenseman at the lower levels would help him with positioning and recognizing plays as they develop.
I think the Oilers should be set with RNH, Gagner and the soon-to-arrive Anton Lander. They have a nice veteran combination for support in Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger. If Lander can provide a 2-way presence and maybe display enough skill to play with the beauty wingers as they mature, the Oilers may be set up front.
Imagine: no more worries at center. The last time the Oilers could even pretend to make that claim Doug Weight and Todd Marchant called Northlands home.
Should RNH, Gagner or Lander flag, which of these young wingers is the best candidate for a move to center?