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Hall could be option at center for Oilers

by Derek Van Diest /

EDMONTON — With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins unavailable to the Edmonton Oilers until November, the club is looking at their best player to possibly fill the void.

Heading into training camp the Oilers will experiment, moving Taylor Hall to center over from his usual left-wing position. Hall, 21, led the Oilers in scoring with 16 goals and 50 points last season.

"The Taylor Hall experiment, I don't want it to get blown out of proportion here, it's not like I'm going to ask this guy to play right defense," Oilers first-year coach Dallas Eakins said. "He's played center before, it may be an option for us. But maybe [Mark] Arcobello is going to step up and going to jump into that hole. Maybe one of the other centers is going to take a bigger role on the third or fourth line and we can bump [Boyd] Gordon up."

Nugent-Hopkins, who underwent shoulder surgery towards the end of last season, is still rehabilitating and will not be available to the Oilers for at least the first month of the season.

The club is thin down the middle without him as Sam Gagner and Gordon are the only two proven NHL centers on the roster as training camp began with medicals and fitness testing Wednesday at Rexall Place.

Arcobello, a fourth-round pick of the Oilers (No. 99) in the 2009 NHL Draft, spent last season with the team's AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City, finishing as the leading scorer with 68 points in 73 games. He was called up for one game with the Oilers before promptly being sent back down to the minors.

"I want as many options I can," Eakins said. "I think it's important to have options, I don't want to get boxed in. This is my experiment. If it works, then great. If it doesn't, I was crazy and we'll move him back to left wing, where he's not that bad of a player."

Hall does have some experience playing down the middle. In his rookie season, when the Oilers were hit with a rash of injuries at center the first pick in the 2010 draft filled in briefly.

Yet, the Calgary product does his best work offensively from the wing, where he likes to attack defensemen with his speed.

"I don't think this is really going to be a permanent thing by any means," Hall said. "We have [Gagner] who's a great centerman and we have [Nugent-Hopkins] who's going to be here for a long time scoring lots of points. So I don't see myself being a centerman for very long. It's whenever [Nugent-Hopkins] and the training staff feel that he's ready to play, I'll make that move back."

Eakins approached Hall in the offseason about possibly making the switch temporarily. It's expected he'll play the majority of his preseason games in the middle to test-drive at the position.

The Oilers open their preseason schedule Saturday with a split-squad game against the Calgary Flames.

"It was about mid-summer, I didn't think of it, but I probably should have," Hall said. "When [Nugent-Hopkins] got hurt, I should have had it in the back of my mind that we might have a centerman issue. I didn't really realize until after free agency that we're missing a guy there while [Nugent-Hopkins] is out."

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