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Patrick Sharp willing to be middleman

Toronto’s David Steckel battles new Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduyfor control puck Wednesday night United Center. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Toronto’s David Steckel battles new Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya for control of the puck Wednesday night at the United Center. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 2, 2012 9:54AM



Patrick Sharp will play center. It’s up to Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to put and keep him there.

After using Sharp in the middle sparingly on their two-game road trip in California, Quenneville went with Patrick Kane, Marcus Kruger, Dave Bolland and Jamal Mayers as his centers Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Quenneville’s reluctance to use Sharp at center this season even with a healthy Jonathan Toews has been puzzling.

“I know that both options are available,” Quenneville said of using Sharp or Kane at center. “We’re trying to do a couple of things there.”

Quenneville said being able to get the better line matchups at home Wednesday didn’t affect his decision.

“[Kane is] responsible enough that he can play no matter who he’s playing against home or away,” Quenneville said.

Center remains a thin position. General manager Stan Bowman searched for a center before the trade deadline but came up empty. Sharp, one of the league’s most versatile players, has starred at left wing. He was the Hawks’ second-line center when they won the Stanley Cup.

“I have no problem playing [center] if Joel wants me to go back,” Sharp said. “I have no issues with it. It was a little different going back after playing 50-some games at the wing. Normally, I’m back and forth every other day. After being on the wing for a while, it took a few shifts and periods to adjust to it. But, like I said, I feel comfortable playing there.”

Time wasn’t right

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson just didn’t feel right against the Dallas Stars last week. It was his first game back after missing seven in a row with concussion symptoms. He played 16:06 but hasn’t been in the lineup since.

“I would say I felt it pretty fast, but it’s tough to know when you’ve been out for a while, too,” Hjalmarsson said. “I thought to myself, it might have been because I’ve been gone for so long that I feel a little off-balance. But I just didn’t feel 100 percent.”

Hjalmarsson, who missed his ninth game in the last 10 Wednesday, said there’s no timetable for his return but participated in the morning skate.

Ready for Leafs

Rookie forward Jimmy Hayes joined winger Viktor Stalberg as a Hawk with some extra incentive against the Leafs. Like Stalberg, he was traded to the Hawks by Leafs general manager Brian Burke.

Hayes was traded in June 2010 for the 43rd pick in the draft that year. The Leafs took Bradley Ross, who has yet to play in the NHL, while Hayes has made an impact with the Hawks.

“They needed draft picks, and Chicago drafted my little brother [Kevin],” Hayes said. “I kind of know Burke believes in the brother combination, so once Chicago had my brother, it maybe opened the door for him to trade me, as well. I’m not too sure why. But I know it’s a business, and you have to trade people away sometimes.”



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