Context and Mark Arcobello

Jonathan Willis
January 11 2014 11:30AM

One of the Oilers’ pleasant surprises this year has been the play of centre/right wing Mark Arcobello. The minor-league journeyman got an opportunity early thanks to some injuries at centre, and made the most of it, playing so well that it was impossible for the Oilers to demote him to the minors.

Given that Edmonton has to make a decision on Arcobello by the end of this season, it’s worth looking at his season in a little more detail. Are there linemates who drive his results? Does he play well with everybody?

The Chart

I have been recording Edmonton line combinations all year, as well as even-strength scoring chances. Because of that, we can easily see how Arcobello has performed in combination with given wingers.

With Skill

Playing with even one skill player on his line, Arcobello has been exceptional, scoring at a 53-point pace over an 82-game season. That’s a good number, and it actually undersells his play; he isn’t a pure finisher (50 goals on 494 career AHL shots, just over 10.0% at that level) but even so his current 1-for-43 stretch on those lines isn’t likely to continue simply because even the worst NHL players convert on more shots than that. He’s averaging almost two shots per game in that role, so the goals will come.

The scoring chance numbers are excellent too, with only three combinations seeing him finish below the break-even mark. He, Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky got filled in on a night where the Oilers were crushed by Vancouver, he struggled in a tough minutes role in place of Boyd Gordon, and then on a line with a struggling Yakupov and minor-leaguer Ryan Hamilton he finished one scoring chance below 0.500.

That’s it. Every other line combination has been 0.500 or better in terms of scoring chances on a team that’s been lit up this season.

At Right Wing

Superficially, Arcobello’s numbers when on the right wing of the Boyd Gordon-centered defensive line (five games, two points, minus-five) aren’t good, but when we look at the scoring chances he’s actually been doing just fine.

This is particularly impressive given the assortment of left wings he’s played with in that role. There is Ryan Jones, who cleared waivers and had a minor-league stint this year. There are Linus Omark and Ryan Hamilton, two players who have spent most of the year in the minors. There is Jesse Joensuu, who would be in the minors if he didn’t stand 6’4”.

The evidence suggests that Arcobello would do just fine as the primary right wing and second faceoff man on a defensive zone line. His shot totals even went up in that role this year.

With Grinders

It is as fourth-line centre that Arcobello’s numbers fall of a cliff. His shot totals drop, his offence goes away and his line gets out-chanced. Pretty grim, except that it isn’t.

Arcobello’s problems are confined to his time on a line with Luke Gazdic. Playing with Ryan Jones and Jesse Joensuu he managed four shots in two games and his line out-chanced the opposition 6-2. With Gazdic, Arcobello has just two shots in five games and the Oilers are out-chanced 16-7.

That sounds bad, but it’s actually a step forward for Gazdic. With scoring chances counted for every game save the Oilers’ home match against Philadelphia at the end of December (which, if this cold holds up, I’ll grade today) Edmonton has been out-chanced by a 58-23 margin with Gazdic on the ice. So the comparison actually looks like this:

  • Gazdic with Arcobello: +7/-16, 30.4 percent of chances are Oilers chances
  • Gazdic without Arcobello: +16/-42, 27.6 percent of chances are Oilers chances

Gazdic has served as a millstone, dragging the rest of the fourth line down with him all season, and he’s done the same with Arcobello (I should note that the last three games have seen a dramatic turnaround in Gazdic’s play; he has been better in all areas and it’s showed up in a +9/-7 on-ice scoring chances number. Two of those games came with Arcobello at centre; the other last night came with Ryan Smyth).

Conclusion

This season, Mark Arcobello has made everybody around him better. When a guy drives scoring chances like that, and particularly when he can win faceoffs and kill penalties and never backs down from a physical confrontation, the fact that he’s 5’8” can’t be the determining factor. He can fill-in on any line, at right wing or at centre and be trusted in all three zones.

In one way, it is a testament to the work being done by the coaches in Oklahoma City, since this wasn’t the player Arcobello was when he joined the team halfway through 2010-11. In a much larger way, it’s a testament to the person Arcobello is.

Guys with political science degrees from Yale have plenty of options, and the temptation to do something else must have been tremendous. Instead he worked his way up from the ECHL, turned himself into the kind of player who could do whatever the situation called for and forced a league obsessed with size to keep him on.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Czar
January 11 2014, 11:44AM
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He's done everything he's been asked, even sat out when others should have and took it all in stride. The kids been great, more than we could have hoped for.

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#2 ThatGuy109
January 11 2014, 11:57AM
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Arco has been a very nice positive in a crappy season and I'll be disappointed if the Oilers don't re-sign him. Versatile players (especially "good soldier" versatile players) are hard to hang on to.

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#4 Eastern Oil
January 11 2014, 12:00PM
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Great article JW. Anyone can identify the major holes on this team that is keeping them back from fielding a competitive teams every night. However, players like Mark (hopefully) is the kind of talent you need for depth on a good team. Despite his size he plays tough, he can move up and down the lineup and has a great work ethic. I hope that he sticks.

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#5 Lowetide
January 11 2014, 12:06PM
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Great insight, Jonathan! And credit to the scouts on finding Arcobello. Well done.

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#6 #ThereGoesTheOilers
January 11 2014, 01:22PM
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Arco exhibits everything we wish we saw in each of our small forwards. What was all that wind about competitivness and work ethic we heard at the beginning of the year?

If Arcobello isn't on this team next year, I will be very sad indeed.

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#7 HardBoiledOil
January 11 2014, 12:02PM
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even though he's had his rough patches this year, what a find this guy has been! I love the way this 5' 9" man plays! he has obvious skill, he skates well, not afraid to hit for a guy his size, works hard, great attitude and will play where the coach puts him, no questions asked. I don't care how small he is, I would like to see him stay here long term and be able to enjoy the spoils of this team becoming a winner someday. not bad for a guy who played one game last year and was branded a "minor leaguer".

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#8 DieHard
January 11 2014, 12:49PM
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He's a very smart player. Got to sign him for at least 2 more years. I like the way he checks bigger players into the boards and takes the puck away. Nice.

Update: ya, eveybody else is bigger player.

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#9 Mason Storm
January 11 2014, 01:00PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Think you could put the same chart up for Gagne? Also, I know there's an r at the end, just didn't feel he was worth my full effort.

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#10 Czar
January 11 2014, 11:58AM
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JW, there's no question the Oilers have to resign him but what kind of money and term do you think we're looking at?

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#11 Woodguy
January 11 2014, 12:04PM
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Love Arco.

He can be a good plug and play guy who can step into any line when injuries strike.

If the Oilers are deep enough to start Arco as 4C next year, that's a good thing (I'd start him at 2C ahead of Gagner based on defensive ability and move Gagner to RW if he's still here)

Also,

If a light has gone on for Gazdic, that's a very good thing for the Oilers.

First step is having a 4th line that doesn't bleed chances.

Second step is having a 4th line that can take a pile of Dzone draws and also PK

Third step is giving your other 3 lines tons of Ozone starts since your fourth line can handle the Dzone starts.

For more info on this look at how Quennville deploys his lines.

Here's Dzone starts for the Hawks. Its radical and I think is a great way to maximize your offensive guys. The key is to have a 4th line that can handle it.

Player DZSt%

Brandon Bollig 51.10%

Ben Smith 50.80%

Marcus Kruger 50.30%

Michal Handzus 27.00%

Brandon Saad 23.70%

Patrick Sharp 21.80%

Marian Hossa 21.70%

Andrew Shaw 21.00%

Jonathan Toews 20.00%

Kris Versteeg 19.50%

Patrick Kane 19.20%

Brandon Pirri 16.90%

Bryan Bickell 16.60%

That's amazing.

I'm convinced that icing a 4th that can handle that kind of load puts you a full line ahead of teams that ice a 4th that can't play hockey.

Oilers like to carry a fighter, I hope this is a sign that Eakins is turning him into a hockey player too.

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#14 Czar
January 11 2014, 12:14PM
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@Jonathan Willis

I think he gets a little more, $1.2 then $1.3 million on a two year deal which is good value for what he brings.

Another good article JW, thx again

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#15 Czar
January 11 2014, 12:24PM
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@vetinari

If they're paying Jones $1.5 I think Arco's agent can milk a little more out of the club than $800-$950k.

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#16 Czar
January 11 2014, 01:08PM
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Mason Storm wrote:

Think you could put the same chart up for Gagne? Also, I know there's an r at the end, just didn't feel he was worth my full effort.

Taking the same approach as Gags does to the defensive side of the game?

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#17 MessyEH
January 11 2014, 01:30PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Honest question: Why not?

Honest Answer.

He'll be 40.

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#18 Fish
January 11 2014, 02:18PM
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I don't know how some of the other guys in the locker room can look themselves in the mirror. Arco is the smallest guy in the room by a mile and still leads the forwards in hits. They all need a lot more of That in everyone else's game. Love this guy.

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#20 hockeycrazed
January 11 2014, 02:17PM
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People used to knocked on Dave Hunter for his size as well, but he served a purpose on the Oil team very well. You look at Arcobello, but what he lacks in size, he more than compensate in heart and hard work! And if the Oil had 25 guys that played like him, we might be even talking about playoffs now, not tanking! So pay the man what's coming to him, he's earn it!!!

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#21 vetinari
January 11 2014, 12:20PM
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Would love to see Arco signed for 2 years at $800k to $950k per season range. We need some reliable 2 way plug and play forwards on this team going forward.

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#22 bwar
January 11 2014, 01:12PM
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Arco's playing well? Better demote him to the fourth line and slot Sam "The Liability" Gagner back in at 2C.

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#23 Oiler Al
January 11 2014, 01:28PM
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I would resign him at the minimum one year. The guy needs more ice time to develop confidence in his game. Good plug guy, and back up for Gordon, should he get hurt.

Great skater, strong hockey IQ, and not afraid to get physical. Needs to add 15 lbs of muscle over summer.

Bye Bye Jonesy.

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#24 Bryzarro World
January 11 2014, 03:01PM
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You take any chance you get to crap on Gazdic.

You want George to come out of retirement or will you be taking up his role? See a lot of others willing to go when needed on this team JW?

He isn't perfect but better than what we've had for years and better have a few of him than a whole team of smurfs or whatever a team put together by you would look like...

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#25 DigDeepNBleedBlue
January 11 2014, 02:18PM
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Love the way Arcobello forechecks. He plays, most nights, a good all around game. Impressive.

I think he will be a great utility forward for this team. Fill in wherever needed. Something Jones was somewhat able to do in previous seasons.

And, with that said, he replaces Jones on the roster. IMO

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#26 pelhem grenville
January 11 2014, 11:57AM
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OK OK OK...grim reality is he's NOT going to be with this club if and when this club starts to win...

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#27 pkam
January 11 2014, 03:06PM
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pelhem grenville wrote:

Honest answer...too small

He is about the same size as MSL and B Marchand, both have a SC ring.

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#28 BLAKPOO
January 11 2014, 12:58PM
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Arco's a player, no doubt. What he's done so far is impressive.

I just think that with the current state of affairs within the organization, we can't afford to have too many small guys. We need to bulk up, and we need to bulk up fast. Ebs, Nuge, Perron.. not the biggest guys, but they won't be replaced for the sake of bulky compete guys. That leaves guys like Gagner, Hemsky, Arco, Smyth as the pieces MacT's most likely going to swap out before next season.

I don't have anything against Arco, he's a great player. I just don't see him fitting in with what needs to be done with this team. We need to be bigger, and that's less likely happen at the expense of an Eberle than it is for an Arcobello.

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#30 pelhem grenville
January 11 2014, 04:31PM
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pelhem grenville wrote:

Honest answer...too small

JW said, "...he's still a 5'8" minor-league journeyman"

JW gets 8 props and I get 16 trashes for "too small"...?

~crying over here~

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#31 pelhem grenville
January 11 2014, 12:34PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Honest question: Why not?

Honest answer...too small

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#32 Saytalk
January 11 2014, 03:18PM
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If there's ever a concern... about the 2C spot if Gagner gets traded, Arcobello would not be a downgrade. In fact, the stats in this article indicate otherwise.

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#33 TeddyTurnbuckle
January 11 2014, 01:38PM
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@Oiler Al

I wasn't a fan of Ryan Jones before this year but since he got sent down he has been playing great on the fourth line. I just hated seeing him in the top nine. I would resign Jones for 900k one year deal. Ryan smyth 1 million one year deal also.

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#34 RSD
January 11 2014, 05:32PM
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@#ThereGoesTheOilers

*****Correction:****** Arco exhibits everything we wish we saw in each of our BIG forwards.

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#35 Rama Lama
January 11 2014, 05:35PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually, I went out of my way to note how he's turned around the last three games. If he can keep doing that, I'll be perfectly happy to talk about how useful he is.

If he doesn't keep it up, I'll keep pointing out that he isn't an NHL player.

Now if you want to pretend a guy who has been getting out-chanced 3:1 and brings up the rear in that category on the worst team in the Western Conference is a useful NHL player, that's your business. Just don't ask anybody rational to share your delusion.

Could you humour us and tell us which enforcer meets your criteria? I have been an Oiler fan for over 30 years and cannot remember an enforcer who was able to create sustainable offence while still fighting........at least anyone who could skate like Gazdic.

As far as Acrebello goes, it's easy to see why he is so effective. No advanced stats necessary he uses the Gretzky principle for playing hockey.

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#36 Serious Gord
January 11 2014, 11:06PM
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Lowetide wrote:

Great insight, Jonathan! And credit to the scouts on finding Arcobello. Well done.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

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#37 S cottV
January 11 2014, 12:14PM
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As long as we continue to have a small d corps, guys like Arco in the middle - makes it real tough to handle low threats in the d zone.

This is particularly true playing the larger teams in our division, who are standing in the way of a playoff position.

He's a good guy but a difficult fit in the middle under these circumstances, so giving him a go on the wing makes sense.

We have to get Gagner out of the middle for the some of the same reasons.

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#38 TeddyTurnbuckle
January 11 2014, 01:32PM
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Keep him on a one year one way deal for 900k . He would take that in a heartbeat. Love his play, one of the only guys on the team who finishes his checks hard consistently. Plus guys are more valuable on one year deals at the trade deadline. In fact if he keeps playing well he could fetch us a 2nd round pick this year at the deadline. Good return for guy drafted at the bottom. I'd rather keep him though.

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#39 Czar
January 11 2014, 05:17PM
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pelhem grenville wrote:

JW said, "...he's still a 5'8" minor-league journeyman"

JW gets 8 props and I get 16 trashes for "too small"...?

~crying over here~

You have to admit he plays likes he's bigger and uses his 5'8" frame a lot better than some of his larger teammates. I like the kids compete level, wish it was contagious.

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#40 billythebullet
January 11 2014, 05:25PM
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Arco's a keeper. For now, until a 6-2 or larger version of him lands on the oilers doorstep.

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#41 HardBoiledOil
January 11 2014, 01:25PM
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BLAKPOO wrote:

Arco's a player, no doubt. What he's done so far is impressive.

I just think that with the current state of affairs within the organization, we can't afford to have too many small guys. We need to bulk up, and we need to bulk up fast. Ebs, Nuge, Perron.. not the biggest guys, but they won't be replaced for the sake of bulky compete guys. That leaves guys like Gagner, Hemsky, Arco, Smyth as the pieces MacT's most likely going to swap out before next season.

I don't have anything against Arco, he's a great player. I just don't see him fitting in with what needs to be done with this team. We need to be bigger, and that's less likely happen at the expense of an Eberle than it is for an Arcobello.

my thinking is Gagner and/or Hemsky will be traded,(hopefully both) opening up 2 spots on the roster for larger players to be signed this summer (I hope). with bigger players up front who can play, you can get away with having a guy the size of Arco play on your team. the Oilers are always saying they want to get bigger (and with talent) up front to be able to compete with the bigger Western conference teams, aren't they?

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#42 tileguy
January 11 2014, 01:37PM
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If we are moving a small talented forward I would sign him to a one way one year contract, probably in that 1 mil. range. That will give him the full year to find his place on this team.

If we are not moving out a small forward he has to go, hopefully in a pkg that can bring some size to this team..

Moving Gags to the wing and keepin Arc is asking for more of the same that we have been seeing this year.

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#43 DigDeepNBleedBlue
January 11 2014, 03:23PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually, I went out of my way to note how he's turned around the last three games. If he can keep doing that, I'll be perfectly happy to talk about how useful he is.

If he doesn't keep it up, I'll keep pointing out that he isn't an NHL player.

Now if you want to pretend a guy who has been getting out-chanced 3:1 and brings up the rear in that category on the worst team in the Western Conference is a useful NHL player, that's your business. Just don't ask anybody rational to share your delusion.

So, anyone that sees worth in Gazdic is irrational and delusion?

Ok....

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#44 Casey
January 11 2014, 11:32PM
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I am happy for Arco or "the Utility Man". I watched him work his way from the ECHL to an AHL all star to a trusted centre in the NHL. It seems as if the Work Ethic in OkC is far different from up in Oil Country. Guys down there are playing with heart and battling hard. Taylor Fedun, Brandon Davidson are both battling hard after past obstacles. Barons alumni Arcobello, and Jonathan Cheechoo(was thought to have no more game) have worked their way from useless players to great players in their new leagues. Oil should have had the coaching staff as Todd Nelson as head coach, Rocky Thompson and Gerry Flemming as Assistant Coaches, and someone else as associate coach

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#45 Rdubb
January 12 2014, 07:31AM
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Finally, someone who is giving Arco some credit... eakins finally pulled his stubborn head out of the rear end of a jackass & moved Gagner over to the wing (by the way, heard an interview by Sam & he actually thinks that he is a #2 C in the NHL, is he delusional?) & put Arco at C, which should have happened at least 15 games ago. The stats above just go to prove that. Id really like to see the same stats put towards Gagner. putting Sam on the wing and Arco at 2nd line C should help this team cut down on its goals against (as long as the goalies do their job) & shouls also aid in the scoring chances for, which should give the Oilers more goals, thus giving them more wins Just a thought PECK

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#46 MessyEH
January 11 2014, 01:36PM
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TeddyTurnbuckle wrote:

Keep him on a one year one way deal for 900k . He would take that in a heartbeat. Love his play, one of the only guys on the team who finishes his checks hard consistently. Plus guys are more valuable on one year deals at the trade deadline. In fact if he keeps playing well he could fetch us a 2nd round pick this year at the deadline. Good return for guy drafted at the bottom. I'd rather keep him though.

He and I have the same draft #.;)

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#47 wiseguy
January 11 2014, 03:17PM
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News from Buffalo that Grigorenko is refusing to report to CHL after being sent down by team. A lot of posters here were very high on him due to position and size. It shows again that most kids struggle to make the jump to the NHL. Is there a trade there while his value is lowered?

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#48 BLAKPOO
January 11 2014, 03:44PM
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HardBoiledOil wrote:

my thinking is Gagner and/or Hemsky will be traded,(hopefully both) opening up 2 spots on the roster for larger players to be signed this summer (I hope). with bigger players up front who can play, you can get away with having a guy the size of Arco play on your team. the Oilers are always saying they want to get bigger (and with talent) up front to be able to compete with the bigger Western conference teams, aren't they?

We're already trying to get away with having guys the size of Nuge and Ebs on the team. Like I said, I don't have issue with him as a player, and respect his compete level, but if they're expecting him to line up against guys the likes of Backes, Hanzal and Thorton, his compete isn't going to matter. We need to be bigger down the middle. At both 2C and 3/4C.

If the opportunity develops to turn him over for a comparably skilled player with an extra six inches of height and 40 pounds of muscle, that deals gonna happen. As it should.

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#49 andrewmk20
January 11 2014, 05:37PM
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@pelhem grenville

Why not? The Devils went to the cup final with Stephen Gionta playing on the fourth line. The Oilers won't win or lose with him on the team. Just because they need a big center and more competitive players with size in their top 9 doesn't mean they have no room for Arco. Smyth, Hemsky, Jones, Joensuu, Gagner, and Gadzic should all be jettisoned in favor of more competitive two way players, but Arco should not.

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#50 Kevin
January 11 2014, 07:26PM
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hmm- let's not put lip stick on a pig here and call a spade a spade. This team is basically an AHL calibre line up playing in the NHL. Cracking this line-up is no real deal.

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