COPENHAGEN – It was bound to happen. With so many centres on the Canadian world junior roster some highly-skilled players were going to have to move. At Tuesday's practice it happened to be Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in last June's NHL draft, and Connor McDavid, who is trying to become just the sixth 16-year-old to make the team.
"We said earlier, when this all began, there's a chance when this all gets sorted that we have eight, nine centre icemen and guys have to get adjusted and McDavid may have to be one of those guys," head coach Brent Sutter said after the workout in Copenhagen, Denmark where the team has made camp this week.
Sutter had McDavid on the left, draft-eligible Sam Reinhart on the right and Vancouver Canucks first rounder Bo Horvat in the middle on one new-look line. Drouin, who played left wing before shifting to centre with the Halifax Mooseheads this season, was back at his old position beside Nic Petan, Winnipeg's second-round pick in June, and Curtis Lazar, who was picked 17th overall by Ottawa in the same draft.
"I figured out pretty quick when I showed up here that there's pretty good centres here and they played there for a lot of years so, obviously, it doesn't really matter where they play me," Drouin said. "Not much different really. I've been playing there [left wing] for so long."
On Monday Drouin skated for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 6. That workout, however, was a short, more informal one with Sutter wanting to get the players legs going after a long journey to Europe. Tuesday was the first time Drouin, the only forward returning from last year's squad, practised on a regular line.
"With Petan not being a large specimen [5-foot-9, 166 pounds] we felt like having him and Drouin playing together, their skill and speed, would really be effective," said Sutter, "and only one of them could play centre so Dru's certainly played the wing before so it made sense for us to have him on the wing right now."
"I think me and Nic, we like to move the puck," Drouin said, "and Laser's a shooter, he's a big guy, a power forward a little bit and I think it should work pretty well."
Unlike Drouin, McDavid doesn't have a history of playing on the wing, but didn't seem fazed by the challenge.
"I'm really excited about it," said McDavid, who has 12 goals and 38 assists in 31 games with the OHL's Erie Otters this season. "Wing is a little different than centre obviously, but at the end of the day if you're the first guy back you got to play down low. Bo and I talked about it. We have three centremen playing on the same line right now so we all know what we're doing down low and the wing."
If McDavid makes the squad he will be lining up against players, who are not just older, but also more physically mature. Sutter points out that using the 6-foot, 182-pound McDavid on the wing should make his life a bit easier.
"McDavid doesn't need to be the guy who's handling everything down low," said Sutter. "We could use a bigger body down low in our zone [6-foot, 203-pound Horvat], but ... they're three natural centre icemen and they can certainly read off each other."
The other lines at Tuesday's practice at Rødovre Arena in the Danish capital were:
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Anthony Mantha
Hunter Shinkaruk - Felix Girard - Charles Hudon
Kerby Rychel - Frederik Gauthier - Josh Anderson
And it seems likely most, if not all, of the lines will stay together this week as Canada holds two more practices before the first pre-tournament game on Friday against Finland. Sutter's plan is to make the three cuts – four if defenceman Morgan Rielly is loaned to the team by the Toronto Maple Leafs – after that game.
"You got to get some kind of continuity going," Sutter explained. "Guys got to get the feel for each other, get some chemistry with each other. If we can keep our lines, get them working together, that would be a good thing. You always try and work in pairs. Usually there are two guys on a line working together so when you get into game situations you may only have to move one guy around."
Some pairings have emerged early in Canada's selection camp, which started Friday in Toronto. McDavid and Reinhart have been together during every on-ice session as well as Leier-Laughton and Gauthier-Anderson. Petan and Lazar have been together in two practices and were only split-up on Saturday, because Petan didn't dress for a scrimmage against a group of Canadian Interuniversity Sport players.
"We'd like to have these guys get to know each other and get some chemistry and I think it shows each day in practice," said Sutter. "They seem to be getting better and better and used to each other."