2024 Madison Capitols vs Green Bay Gamblers

Lightning Prospect Jayson Shaugabay's Surprise Shift To Center Paying Off

Lightning Prospect Jayson Shaugabay's Surprise Shift To Center Paying Off

Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Jayson Shaugabay has primarily played on the wing, but a recent in-game shift to center showed potential.

Feb 2, 2024 by Ryan Sikes
Lightning Prospect Jayson Shaugabay's Surprise Shift To Center Paying Off

Position changes happen often enough in hockey, but the player making the shift often has a few practices to get some reps in to familiarize themselves with the new responsibilities. For Green Bay Gamblers forward Jayson Shaugabay, a 2023 fourth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning and natural winger, that was not the case.

Green Bay, which had to replace all four of its centers from last year's roster over the offseason, found themselves in need of shaking things up a bit even more in a recent game against the Sioux City Musketeers. Head coach Mike Leone made a quick in-game discussion to slide the 18-year-old winger to the middle of the ice, where he centered a line with Julian Lutz (ARI) and Libor Nemec.

Shaugabay, typically a pass-first winger, consistently has ranked among the leaders in assists at every stop in his career. Last year, he led the Minnesota High School ranks with 63 assists for Warroad High School and earned the coveted 2023 Mr. Minnesota Hockey Award.

After splitting a portion of last season between Warroad and Green Bay, he's maintained the playing style and position that he had so much success with last year in his first full USHL campaign. Shaugabay has racked up 24 assists so far with the Gamblers, which puts him among the top 10 skaters in the league in that category.

Despite his on-ice success in his natural position, the Green Bay coaching staff had been considering a position change for some time to bolster the team’s strategy and improve Shaugabay's offensive involvement. Essentially, the team wanted him to be more than a pass-first player. The right opportunity presented itself last Friday against Sioux City.

“We moved him to the middle just to get him more engaged,” Leone said. “I think when he's moving and playing, there's more responsibility, but it frees him up to skate more in the middle to get more puck touches.

“He really had a great weekend, close to 20 scoring chances on the weekend. He really drove our offense, and it was all in five-on-five play, so he had a fantastic weekend.”

The outstanding performance by Shaugabay included his first multi-goal game of the season on Friday.

He showcased his exceptional skills by firing a season-best six shots on goal and adding a third-period assist, which marked his third three-point game of the year. 

On Saturday night, he continued his impressive run by collecting two assists, thus registering his sixth multi-assist game.

As a result of his commendable efforts, Shaugabay was named the USHL Forward of the Week.

“All of the responsibilities (that come with playing center), I felt pretty comfortable with, and I feel like it frees me up a little bit more,” Shaugabay told FloHockey. “On the wing, you’re kind of like in your own little spot; you don’t move that much. But (playing) center is a little more freedom, and you get to be around the puck more. So, obviously, it’s a little more challenging, but I enjoyed it.”

Shaugabay’s natural instincts, ability to read plays and exceptional hockey IQ, all of which are innate qualities, all brought him success on the wing. Those attributes, coupled with his competitiveness, willingness to win puck battles and attention to detail in the defensive zone made Shaugabay an ideal candidate for a shift to the middle of the ice. 

Moreover, Shaugabay already had been performing many of the tasks expected of centers while playing on the wing, making his transition to the position almost seamless.

“Jayson is a really good player off the rush in transition, so getting the puck in the middle of the ice on entries and [his] ability to make plays, I think it has really helped him,” Leone said. “His play away from the puck is – just his instincts and his ability to read plays and how smart he is, it is second to none. It allows him a little bit more freedom to trust his instincts and play more with the puck.”

Because of the impressive performance in a limited sample size, Shaugabay is expected to be given an opportunity to play in an extended capacity at center.

He will continue to center a line with Lutz and Nemec, who both have the talent and abilities to help Shaugabay unlock another layer in his game, as he continues his journey to becoming a legitimate goal-scorer in this league and beyond.

“He’s got a really good shot,” Leone added. “When he’s finding areas in the soft ice and finding ways to score more and shoot more – when he’s playing like he is – it’s a different dynamic in our lineup, for sure.”