From 1947-60, Kelly was an exceptional defenseman, winning four Stanley Cups and the Norris Trophy in 1953-54. For the last seven years of his career with the Maple Leafs, he made the switch to center and set a career high for points in his first season before adding four more Stanley Cup rings to his Hall of Fame resume.
Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs
Position switch: Defense ➡️ center
Gardiner was actually a forward until his senior year of high school. Moving to defense was probably the right move, as he went on to become a first-round pick in 2008. The pending unrestricted free agent is in line for a nice contract this offseason as a coveted puck-moving blue-liner.
However, Gardiner still flashes the qualities of a dynamic playmaking centerman. He’s a gifted skater with exceptional edge work, an excellent passer with great vision, and has a hard shot.
Gardiner is a valuable defenseman with great possession numbers, though turnovers and suspect play away from the puck get him into trouble at times. Playing center would allow him to unleash his creativity without the consequences of being the last man back.
Charlie Coyle, Wild
Position switch: Center/right wing ➡️ defense
There’s no doubting Coyle’s talent. He’s got size (6-foot-3, 220 lbs), speed, physicality, and playmaking ability. In fact, he was the main trade chip in return for the aforementioned Burns.
Coyle hasn’t quite developed into the power forward the Wild expected. In his seven-year career, he has just one 20-goal season and just a single 50-point campaign.
Coyle’s inability to consistently finish has prevented him from becoming a top-six forward, but as a defenseman, that wouldn’t be a concern. He has the strength and reach to excel in his own end without the puck, and his skating and passing ability would allow him to become a strong puck-mover. Plus, as a right-handed shooting defenseman, he’d be in high demand.
Aaron Ekblad, Panthers
Position switch: Defense ➡️ right wing
Many expected Ekblad, the former first overall pick, to become an annual Norris Trophy contender by this point in his career. Although there’s still plenty of time for the soon-to-be 23-year-old to develop his game, he does have the skill set to become a force up front.
While Ekblad has shown the ability to score with some of the best defensemen in the league, he hasn’t shown the necessary poise and vision to rack up the assists and vault himself into the conversation among the game’s elite blue-liners. In his five-year career, Ekblad has averaged 15 goals and 21 assists per 82 games.
Imagine him as a hulking, 6-foot-4, 220-pound power forward. With his size, heavy shot, and skating ability, he’d be a nightmare for many of today’s undersized, puck-moving blue-liners to defend. Put him alongside an elite playmaker and it wouldn’t be surprising if he became a 30-40 goal scorer.
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