There have been quite a few hot-topic discussions this summer among Caps fans, but it seems that none inspires the most heated debates as: who is the team’s 2nd line center for the 2010-11 season? We’ve all conjectured about Fleischmann, Johansson, Perreault, Laich, and a number of free agent possibilities who could fill the void. For a second, I’d like to ask another question on a similar subject:
Who will be the team’s 3rd line center?
With yesterday’s reports that the Caps will be re-signing center Eric Belanger, the issue popped back up again. The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera put the issue out there yesterday:
Belanger's return will certainly make it an interesting battle for among a group of players potentially including Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Fleischmann and Mathieu Perreault for ice time behind top-line center Nicklas BackstromYikes. That's more 'C's than 'Ciccarelli and 'Ciccone' combined!
Ok, so let’s assume (correctly) that Backstrom is the top line center, that the rumors involving trading Flash are true and that Gordon and Steckel will take turns manning the 4th line center duties (as neither showed the offensive side needed to helm the 3rd line role). Let’s also assume Laich will continue to play wing. That would leave Belanger, Johansson and Perreault to fight for the role. Can any of them do it? Sure.
Belanger looks like a 3rd line center to me. Sure, he was running the second line in Minnesota, but none of his linemates there would be 2nd liners for the Washington Capitals and he tends to look tentative; like he's always getting ready to backcheck. Of course, maybe playing a full season with the likes of Alex Semin, Eric Fehr and/or Brooks Laich will turn him into a solid 2C. Over the last 3 seasons, Belanger has had twice as many primary assists (49) than assists of the secondary variety (24). The man can pass.
Perreault fit nicely between Chimera and Fehr for a few games and could assume that same role out of camp. He also possesses the hockey-sense to find the more skilled second liners in open ice, and 2C seems to fit his size and defensive ability more than 3C. If he’s managed to improve his face offs and defensive play, either pivot position would fit him.
As for Johansson, obviously none of us can say who he’ll work best with at the NHL level. He seems like a skilled, play-making center with some grit who could fill in at either 2C or 3C. Only time will tell what kind of center he really is. I know the Caps are very high on him, but the Caps have been very high on players that didn't fit their roles in the past.
None of these questions can be answered until the conjectured signings and trades actually happen, and until the fight for the spot commences at training camp. Until then, Caps fans will be left debating.
Of course, maybe GMGM is looking at trading Flash to make room for Peter Forsberg. Then this discussion is moot...