The Edmonton Oilers need to add an NHL-caliber centre if they are serious about being competitive in 2014-15. That’s a lot easier to say than to do, but there’s just no way to get around it. The team has a surplus of talent on the wings and need down the middle, and at this point a trade from a position of strength to address a position of weakness just makes sense.
The Depth Chart
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 14 games, 11 points, 48.4% in faceoffs, 20:56 average TOI
- Mark Arcobello: 16 games, seven points, 51.2% in faceoffs, 15:59 average TOI
- Boyd Gordon: 16 games, four points, 57.1% in faceoffs, 13:34 average TOI
- Leon Draisaitl: 16 games, four points, 45.6% in faceoffs, 12:36 average TOI
It’s really interesting watching Dallas Eakins and his staff work with the centres, because it’s pretty obvious that they trust Arcobello more than Draisaitl but have a mandate to develop the young German. At home, Draisaitl plays one minute more per game than Arcobello, but on the road Arcobello averages eight (!) minutes more than Draisaitl. That’s a problem, because as much as I like Arcobello as an NHL player he’s not a guy who should be playing 18:40 per game on the road and taking on all matchups.
As I see it, the Oilers have two guys who would fit really well as the centre of a third scoring line. It’s a great spot for Draisaitl to learn his trade, and it’s a great place for Arcobello, who is really a fantastic fit for the role as a jack-of-all trades guy with scoring ability. Edmonton only has one spot on that line, though, which means the better of the two players has to play higher on the depth chart than he really should. Right now, the coaching staff clearly sees Arcobello as that guy.
Adding a Pivot
The solution is to add a centre who can be trusted in a tough role. Jeff Petry’s name is the one often suggested as trade bait to land that guy, but with the Oilers’ defence the mess that it is at the moment it would be folly to trade him unless he’s totally unwilling to re-sign with Edmonton.
That leaves the Oilers with one position of strength to draw on: their wingers. Wingers have less value than centres, so making that deal is going to hurt in that the guy coming back in trade probably isn’t going to have the same level of scoring ability as the player heading out of town.
A deal doesn’t necessarily need to be for a real difference-maker, just a guy with a range of skills who can be trusted if he ends up in a tough matchup in a road game. Kyle Brodziak is the player I use as a “for example” case, not because he’s a perfect fit but because he’s a serviceable NHL centre. There are plenty of others who fit the mold too, though of course it’s hard to know exactly which options Craig MacTavish has. If the Oilers can get a serviceable but overpaid centre for someone like Teddy Purcell, that’s something that should interest them. If they can get a really good centre for one of their better wingers (basically anyone other than Taylor Hall), that too needs to be considered.
Moving a winger out in such a deal comes with a bit of a bonus: the ability to transition Arcobello or Draisaitl to a spot on the wing. In those road games where the coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust Draisaitl enough to use him, he could move to the wing while Arcobello centres the third scoring line. At home, Arcobello could shuffle to the wing (perhaps taking faceoffs as well) while Draisaitl learns the ropes in an environment where Eakins and his staff control the matchups.
It’s also really not a bad idea to have a spare centre waiting in the wings (sorry) for when injury hits, which it inevitably will.
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