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Blackhawks' Kane all for winging it at center
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/24/2008 12:04 AM

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Blackhawks coach Denis Savard knows he has a big hole at center behind Jonathan Toews.

But Savard said Tuesday there are options, including moving rookie of the year Patrick Kane from right wing to center.

"I'm thinking about it," said Savard, who used Kane at center briefly in a Monday scrimmage. "I guarantee you'll see him at center in one of these exhibition games, possibly two."

Kane was at right wing for Tuesday's preseason opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center, which the Hawks won 4-3 on late goals by Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer.

Rookie Petri Kontiola centered a line for Kane and Sharp and was minus-2 with 1 shot on goal.

The Hawks have said publicly ever since the trade of second-line center Robert Lang to Montreal that Kontiola has an opportunity at No. 2 center, although it's more likely going to be a trade that solves the problem.

Reports surfaced Tuesday of the Hawks being one of the teams showing interest in Washington Capitals center Michael Nylander. The problem is Nylander, who has 199 points in 200 games the last three seasons, would bring with him a salary-cap hit of $4.875 million.

That's a hit the Hawks couldn't think of taking on, being just $1.5 million under the NHL's cap - unless they could move one of their own big contracts, such as Nikolai Khabibulin's ($6.75 million) or possibly Cam Barker's (a $2.83 million cap hit).

Savard had little to say about Kontiola's play against Columbus.

"Everybody played well," Savard said.

Earlier in the day Savard said of Kontiola: "He's got to show us what's he's got. It's important he plays good and consistent every night."

As for Sharp possibly playing center, Savard decided not to leave that question go unanswered any longer. Savard on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of Sharp playing center on the second line, preferring that the 36-goal scorer from a year ago stay on the wing.

"I believe he can't (be the same scorer at center)," Savard said. "I strongly believe he's winger. He's a shooter and a better scorer than a playmaker. I've seen him play both positions, and he's a much better winger. Honestly, I don't even think of playing him at center."

It would be a risky move switching Kane to center. "He's a good winger, we know that," Savard said. "He's so good on the wall and on the boards in his own end. It's going to be a tough call, but if I need to go that way I'm not afraid to do things and try things out."

Kane grew up playing center but hasn't been used there on any level in at least four years.

"Might as well try it out if they need another center in the exhibition games and see how it goes," he said. "I don't have a problem with it. If they want to try it and it goes well, good for us."

Nylander could be the center the Hawks are looking for to play with Martin Havlat, thus leaving the top line of Toews, Kane and Sharp intact.

"Right now, looking at my puzzle, (Andrew) Ladd, (Dave) Bolland and (Dustin) Byfuglien, that's my second/third line," Savard said. "We've got to find somebody for Havlat to play with to give him the opportunity to succeed."