Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A Little tweak sparks trio

Switch from centre to right wing could drive up line's production

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It might not be the easiest conversation a guy can have with his coach. And the timing -- given Bryan Little becomes a restricted free agent after this season -- could be seen as hardly perfect.

But when Winnipeg Jets bench boss Claude Noel approaches with an idea to move him from centre to right wing in an effort to best utilize his skill set and unlock some of the magic that saw him score 31 goals from the flank in 2008-09, what is Little to say?

Option A: "No thanks, I prefer centre."

Option B: "What? Are you (expletive deleted) nuts?"

Or, option C: "Love to, coach."

"I was a bit nervous, just because I hadn't played there in a few years," said Little Thursday after practice at the MTS Centre. "But once you have a couple of shifts and get into it and you don't really think about it, you just react.

"It's pretty good. I think it's a lot easier for centremen to come in and play a wing than a wing to try and play centre.

"It's a bit less responsibility, especially in your own end where you are basically covering a lot less ice. For me, it's an easy adjustment and I'm pretty comfortable playing there.

"It's basically where ever they want me to play, I'll play."

Now, it's not like the 25-year-old Edmonton product had done anything wrong or made any egregious errors that prompted Noel & Co. to move him.

But when the magic Little created last year while centring Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler wasn't there instantly to open 2013 -- and with his big guns eerily silent -- Noel made the switch during the shootout loss to Boston on Monday in an effort to jump-start the offence.

Little then moved onto a line with Ladd, and now centred by Nik Antropov, during the win over Washington and while he didn't hit the scoresheet, he did finish the night a plus-1 and registered five shots.

There was also a familiar feel to it for Little. Back in '08-09 he played almost exclusively on a line with Vyacheslav Kozlov and Todd White and finished with 31 goals and 20 assists. The line, all totalled, combined for 79 goals and 200 points.

"I had more shots... that might have been the year I've had the most shots of any in my career (he did, with 172)," Little said. "I feel I can get the puck a bit more out wide and more opportunities to shoot. I found that a lot last game, too, where I had five shots.

"I like having the puck out wide. Most of the time if they take the pass away you've got the shot and a couple of times in the last game I pulled up and hit the late guy. You have a lot more options."

And maybe Little will also have more bargaining power at the negotiating table this summer, too. If the offensive numbers come, usually some decent dollar figures follow.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Lowdown on Little

Number: 18

Height: 5-11

Weight: 185

Shoots: Right

Born: Nov. 12, 1987 (age 25), Edmonton

Acquired: Chosen in the first round (12th overall) of the 2006 entry draft

NHL STATS

SeasonTeamGPGAPts+/-PimShots

2007-08Thrashers4861016-21876

2008-09Thrashers79312051-524172

2009-10Thrashers79132134-620165

2010-11Thrashers761830481133158

2011-12Jets74242246-1126162

2012-13Jets3000-207

Totals35992103195-15121740

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 C4

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