Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be ready to start the season?
Now that Craig MacTavish has re-signed Sam Gagner, traded for David Perron and added some depth on the blueline, the health of Nugent-Hopkins is the biggest concern in Oilersnation.
Yesterday, during an interview with MacTavish on my radio show (we will have the entire interview up later this afternoon), I asked him about RNH’s health.
Well, we’re hearing that everything is optimistic, but you don’t want to count on him being ready to start the season. The optimistic forecast would be that he could be potentially ready to start the season, but the pessimistic forecast would be that he would be ready November 1st, the end of October. We’ll leave it at that and let the medical staff decide. We’re certainly not going to rush him and hurry him into the lineup, that’s for sure.
MacTavish’s last comment is the key. The Oilers will wisely not rush Nugent-Hopkins back, but if they realize he isn’t going to be ready what is the back up plan? I asked MacTavish if he’s looking to add a veteran centre?
No, I think we’re good there. We’ve got some depth with Arcobello, we’ve got Will Acton. Andrew Miller is a guy who I’m expecting will have a very good training camp as well, until Nuge is ready to play. I mean, injuries are a part of it. You look at any other team’s depth chart; there are always gaps in their depth chart. Sometimes these gaps allow players and opportunity to step in and really establish themselves as NHL players. You need a chance if you’re a young guy on the outside looking in. This could potentially be that chance if Nuge isn’t ready to go October 1st, but I don’t anticipate doing much more.
If Nugent-Hopkins can’t start the season then Sam Gagner is the #1 centre. Boyd Gordon doesn’t have the offensive capabilities to play on the second line, so that means Mark Arcobello, Andrew Miller and Anton Lander will be battling for the opportunity to play in the top-six.
It would be a great opportunity for them, but it also is a risk by the Oilers.
Lander, 6′, 190 pounds, has the most NHL experience. He’s played 67 games and has 2 goals and 7 points. He was very good for OKC in the playoffs last year scoring 5 goals and 8 points in 8 games.
Arcobello, 5’9, 170, spent the past three seasons in OKC, and last season was his best tallying 22 goals and 68 points in 74 games. He centred Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for almost a month in OKC last year, and both the wingers told me he’s a very smart player. He had 12 goals and 20 points in 17 playoff games, and he’s likely the best pure offensive centre of the three.
Andrew Miller, 5’10, 180, was signed as a free agent this summer after playing four years at Yale University. He scored 42 goals and 156 points in 141 ECAC games. This is how MacTavish described Miller.
Andrew Miller is a lot like Mark Arcobello. He’s actually come out of the same program, they’re both Yale University. Andrew Miller is a strong guy on the puck. He’s a smaller guy, but he’s highly skilled with a real keen intellect to play the game. He scores big goals, he knows where to go, he knows when the opportunity is presenting itself, and he goes to the right positions. He’s going to look really good at camp, I can tell you that. It’s whether he can overcome the exhibition game hurdle. Then the later exhibition games present another hurdle as well as teams pair their roster down and the competition gets a little bet steeper. Then, of course, the ultimate hurdle of playing in a regular season game. We’ll see if he’s ready for that, but he’ll sure look good early.
MacTavish is clearly very high on Miller, and he expects him to play well early on.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN…
If Nugent-Hopkins is ready to go, it means little, but I’d be surprised if he is on the ice October 1st vs. the Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers will not rush him, and Hall told me last year that the extra month rest (he didn’t play in the AHL until November 1st) allowed him to be much stronger and more confident.
It is definitely a risk going with Arcobello, Miller or Lander as your 2nd line centre, but MacTavish wants smart players who can move the puck, and he seems confident that these guys can fill the gap until Nugent-Hopkins returns.
I didn’t think the Oilers would get smaller down the middle, but it is very possible that their opening night roster will have Gagner, Gordon, and one ofLander/Miller/Arcobello as the 2nd line centre and possibly Wil Acton as the 4th line centre.
If Nugent-Hopkins was going to be out long term, I’d bet MacTavish would have signed a veteran centre, and it is possible, albeit it slim, that he still does. The Oilers need to uncover a diamond in the rough at some point, and it seems like MacTavish is going to give Lander, Arcobello and Miller an opportunity of a lifetime.
When an opportunity arises it is up to the player to take advantage of it. Players, like most of us in everyday life, just want an opportunity to prove ourselves.
These three have two months to ensure they are in the best shape of their life and mentally ready to take advantage of a wonderful break.
While Landre, Arcobello and Miller prepare for training camp and the preseason, I suspect most Oilers fans will be extremely nervous when they compare the Oilers C depth chart to the rest of the Pacific division.
Arcobello and Miller both attended Yale so you might want to listen to their fight song to get amped up for the season. Yale hasn’t produced many NHL players, but these four all played over 400 games.
Bob Kudelski: 1987-1996 with the Kings, Senators and Panthers.
Played 442 games and tallied 139 goals and 241 points.
Bob Brooke: 1983-1990 with Rangers, North Stars and Devils.
He played 447 games and scored 69 goals and 166 points.
Chris Higgins: He’s is still active. He broke in 2005 with the Canadiens then moved to the Rangers, Flames, Panthers and now he’s with the Canucks.
He’s played 523 games and scored 133 goals and 254 points.
Randy Wood: 1986-1997 with Islanders, Sabres, Leafs and Stars.
Played 741 games and scored 175 goals and 334 points.