During his junior season at Boston University, Jordan Greenway discovered how advantageous it was to be a 6-6, 226-pound center in the faceoff circle.
“I could just outpower everyone to win a draw,’’ the Wild rookie said. “It was pretty easy for me.’’
It’s not that simple in the NHL, of course. But after moving from wing to center early in training camp, Greenway said he feels comfortable and confident in his new position with the Wild, even as he continues to work on the details. He is expected to center the third line in Thursday’s season opener at Colorado, flanked by Charlie Coyle and Joel Eriksson Ek.
The allure of having a massive man in the middle convinced Wild coach Bruce Boudreau to switch Greenway from wing, where he began his NHL career last March. Following Wednesday’s practice at TRIA Rink, Boudreau declared him “ready to play’’ in his first NHL season opener.
“Some things he’s really good at, and some things you just expect a young player to get better at,’’ Boudreau said. “He can improve on faceoffs and on a few things in his own zone.
“But distributing the puck, coming up the middle and being strong like that, he’s really good at. And I think he’s going to get better.’’
Greenway, 21, said his game improved dramatically last season when BU coach David Quinn moved him to center. He thrived there, using his size to gain position and outmuscle opponents down low.
In camp, he has been learning the finer points of defensive-zone responsibilities and faceoffs. Teammates have been showing him video and giving him pointers, and he has proved to be a quick study. Boudreau said Greenway will be “formidable’’ in the faceoff circle when his strength is complemented by improved quickness, guile and technique.
Greenway played in five preseason games, registering two assists, five shots on goal and winning 13 of 44 faceoffs.
“I wasn’t a faceoff specialist in college, and it’s a hard skill to build,’’ Greenway said.
“But I’m starting to figure it out. Playing center in the NHL, a lot of things are different. Overall, I think I’ve been doing pretty well.’’
Defenseman Gustav Olofsson was traded to Montreal for forward Will Bitten.
Bitten, 20, completed his junior hockey career last season with Hamilton of the Ontario Hockey League. He scored 20 goals and added 44 assists in 62 games. The 5-11, 170-pounder was a third-round pick by Montreal in the 2016 NHL entry draft.
Bitten will be assigned to the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.
Olofsson, 23, injured a shoulder in training camp and played in only one preseason game. Drafted by the Wild in the second round in 2013, he has 11 assists in 56 career NHL games. He has a one-way contract, meaning the Wild would have paid him $775,000 even if he played in Iowa. Bitten’s two-way contract is worth $70,000 in the minor leagues.
Asked about the biggest improvement the Wild has made since last year’s season opener, Boudreau cited the team’s defensive depth. He considers the third pairing of Greg Pateryn and Nick Seeler a significant upgrade over what the Wild had last October, when Olofsson, Mike Reilly and Kyle Quincey filled those spots.
“I really like our third group right now,’’ Boudreau said. “Taking nothing away from Reilly or [Olofsson], we started with two young guys and Kyle Quincey, who just never fit.’’
Pateryn, 28, played a career-high 73 games for Dallas last season and describes his style as simple, solid and reliable. Seeler, a former Gophers player from Eden Prairie, made his NHL debut in mid-February last season and impressed Boudreau while playing 22 of the final 27 regular-season games.