MIDDLETON – Gregory Campbell has heard the media chatter and been privy to the speculation about a potential move to wing this season from his longtime center spot on the fourth line. The gritty pivot has been at the center of the NHL’s most established fourth line over the previous four years, but the fourth line formerly known as the Merlot Line has been forever altered by the free agent departure of enforcer Shawn Thornton.
Clearly there’s a mandate from the B’s front office to make the fourth line faster, younger and more multi-faceted after Montreal’s fourth line outplayed them in the second round of the postseason.
So Campbell could move to the wing to make room for younger centers like Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev, or he could be centering younger players if Daniel Paille gets bumped up to a higher line. It’s something he’s open to if it helps the team, but it’s also a plan he hasn’t heard word one about from management.
“I don’t know. I haven’t talked to anybody within the organization about it, so we’ll have to wait and see. Claude [Julien] is the guy that changes the lines, so it’ll be up to him ultimately,” said Campbell. “But I’m fine with playing wherever I can help out, and fit in with my two linemates.
“There will certainly be some changes this year. Not just for our line, but for all three of the other lines too. But that’s okay. It’s a new year. It’s a new challenge. I’m really excited for it.”
The only thing that's certain: Campbell, Paille and Thornton aren't walking through that door as a fourth line anymore.
Campbell finished with eight goals and 21 points in 81 games along with a plus-1 rating last season, but struggled with his skating speed at times coming off a serious broken leg injury. It truly seemed like the B’s fourth line was chasing the puck more last season than it had in the past, and that it was one key area where skating speed could make a big difference.
That search for fourth line speed, and maybe even a touch more offense, could be the impetus behind moving Campbell to the wing, or it could be that the longtime B’s pivot will continue to be an asset an experienced bottom six center. He’ll be up for either role, and unsurprisingly so given his team-first mindset.
It will one of many questions answered in B’s training camp among a forward group that’s getting a sudden makeover like the one the defensemen corps underwent last season.