Macklin Celebrini

Grier expects Celebrini, Smith to play center over wing for Sharks

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Macklin Celebrini and Will Smith naturally are gifted centers, so general manager Mike Grier expects the two rookies to suit up at the position in their debut seasons with the Sharks.

In talking to reporters Saturday, Grier detailed San Jose’s positional plans for Celebrini, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, and Smith, the team’s first-round pick in 2023, for the upcoming season.

“That’s the idea,” Grier told reporters about Celebrini and Smith playing center instead of wing during their rookie seasons. “We’ll see how camp goes and see what [first-year Sharks coach] Ryan [Warsofsky] thinks and what the coaching staff thinks about everything. I think they’ve both been centers their whole lives.

“Is it easier to be a wing? Sure, there is a little less responsibility. But at the end of the day, these guys have both been elite centermen their whole lives. And that’s what they’re used to playing, and that’s what I’m sure they prefer playing.”

During the 2023-24 NHL season, Mikael Granlund and Tomas Hertl -- before he was traded to the Las Vegas Golden Knights -- carried much of the load at center.

Grier expects a part of those center responsibilities to be relegated to Celebrini and Smith.

But rookies aside, Warsofsky and San Jose have more options than last season. 

Recently, the Sharks signed free-agent center Alexander Wennberg to a two-year, $10 million contract, and they have longtime center Logan Couture in recovery from his groin injury. Those two veterans should help mentor and relieve Celebrini and Smith at the center position.

“We’ll see how it goes, we do have some options -- guys that can kind of fill in and play center throughout the lineup, which is also part of the plan,” Grier added. “Some of those guys can maybe be on their wings and help them with some face-offs and some of the defensive responsibilities as well.”

San Jose also recently signed high-scoring veteran Tyler Toffoli, who will help mightily at wing. His presence will allow the Sharks to let their two prized rookies play center with a key asset at their sides.

Celebrini, who signed his Sharks contract Saturday, is expected to do big things with Smith in what should be a leaf-turning 2024-25 NHL season in San Jose.

Grier, more than anyone, believes the franchise’s two centers of attention are primed to get a lot of time on the ice in the middle of all the action.

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