Jim Nill received a lot of publicity in July for rebuilding the Dallas Stars' center position in rapid fire and moved Jamie Benn back to the wing, but wound up with two distinct groups. The one that included Tyler Seguin and the larger one that did not.
Two weeks into camp the distinction remains. Coy Eakin, Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley and Vernon Fiddler will likely all see time at center this season, but how much and where very much remain mysteries.
Dallas acquired Horcoff on July 5th in exchange for D Philip Larsen and a 7th round draft pick in 2016, but many wondered why.
Horcoff provides veteran leadership in a room that will need it, but does so with a $5.5 million cap hit, with $4 million and $3 million in actual salaries this year and the next. Add to that he's 35 years old, as Brenden Morrow soon will be, and had seen his numbers decline and his spot in the Oiler roster slide.
Nill knew Horcoff already and beleives in his ability to make an impact here, but with Peverley out and Eakin playing so much in the preseason it's unclear where.
Against the Blues last night he centered Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson. He's played on the wing with Cody Eakin. He saw power play duty in the team's first preseason outing, assisting on Tyler Seguin's first goal. Lindy Ruff seems to trust him in key situations, though the sample size is very small.
On paper, given his recent seasons in Edmonton, he'd seem a better candidate for a checking role than a scoring line. He doesn't need to start in the offensive zone much to be succesful and pushing play forward, though his possession numbers were not good in Edmonton last season (no one's were on the team...). A third line placement between Antoine Roussel and Alex Chiasson could be a fit when Rich Peverley returns to occupy a right wing spot.
At this point, with limited sample size and fluxuating preseason rosters, it's impossible to say how it will shake out. Cody Eakin and Shawn Horcoff appear to be in a battle for the right to play with Ray Whitney on that second line, but ice time under Ruff should be available as he attempts to roll four lines.
His offensive output peaked in 2005-2006 with 73 points, followed by three years without about 50 points and three more averaging around 35. His 12 last year pro-rate to about 21, and that's partly a reflection of how he was used by his coaching staff, but it's also a little concerning for a team that has no clear number-two center.
Horcoff presents a variety of options for deployment. Watching for clues on Lindy Ruff's intentions there is a big "to-do" in the last three preseason games.
Razor did a good interview with him, in case you missed it: