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Depth improved with Ennis playing center

February 2, 2012

Maybe Lindy Ruff had reached the end of his rope when he decided to skate Tyler Ennis at center, earlier this week. Whether or not that was the case, it is looking like the right decision.

When Monday’s practice Tweets and reports came out, seeing Ennis at center was assumed as merely a temporary stopgap. After all, Luke Adam and Jason Pominville had gone directly to Montreal to meet the team. Ennis remained at center for Tuesday’s game and reprised the role yesterday against the Rangers.

It is no secret that Ruff has grown tired of Adam’s play as of late. The rookie has been demoted to the fourth line and is seeing fewer minutes each night. The struggles culminated in a healthy scratch on Tuesday night, the first game back from his time participating in All-Star weekend.

The scratch, combined with a dire need to produce offense likely thrust Ennis into his current role. There have been no goals through two games, but it would appear that the decision has been a wise one. Ennis is a dynamic offensive player. His nimble, has terrific hands and showed a penchant for sniping last season. He played center during his junior career in Medicine Hat before moving to wing in the NHL. His most recent position change may provide the answer to a question the Sabres have been searching for since July 1.

As the depth chart stands today, Ennis would be considered the team’s number two center. Derek Roy is currently centering the team’s top line with Paul Gaustad and Adam filling out the “bottom six”. While Roy hasn’t been producing as a top center should, he is serving the role for the time being, a role that was supposed to be addressed over the summer.

The failed experiment that was Ville Leino at center is well documented. That doesn’t need to be re-hashed. However, Leino was never expected to be Brad Richards 2.0 (not in my eyes). Leino was supposed to provide secondary scoring to a position the Sabres had been lacking talent and depth at for some time. While that didn’t work out, it would appear that Ennis is prepared to fill the role.

I had a conversation with Brian Duff last spring in which he expressed his desire to see Ennis fill a roster spot as the number two pivot. It wasn’t something I had ever considered and even this week, putting Ennis at center wasn’t something I thought of as a feasible option.

Duff was spot on in his prediction and it looks as if Ruff made the right choice in moving Ennis this week. He does cheat on faceoffs, but that is to be expected. His defensive zone play has been responsible, thus far, and he has been a spark plug offensively.

What Ennis brings to the table is very similar to the skill set possessed by Derek Roy. Both are shifty playmakers with the ability to finish. If Darcy Regier cannot find an elite center at this year’s trade deadline, Ennis’ presence certainly makes Roy expendable. The worst case scenario here would be Regier moving Roy and bringing in another 1B or 2A center.

In that scenario your top two centers would be Ennis and the new acquisition. While it wouldn’t be ideal, you would create a situation similar to what is going on in Boston. The Bruins may not have a dominant, elite center; but they do have two quality players in their top six.

I’m still waiting to see Ennis start creating tangible results as a pivot. If Ennis and his line start producing, it will all but confirm my suspicions that he is more than adequate as a solution as the second line center. If that is the case, it would make Derek Roy even more expendable on the trade market.

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