It’s funny what a change in management can do. A year ago, Mark Arcobello got a bunch of breaks but wasn’t allowed to take advantage of them – because no matter how poorly Chris Vande Velde or Ryan Smyth played at centre, he wasn’t going to get a real opportunity to show what he could do. He landed a single NHL game despite a decimated depth chart and guys playing out of position.
Under the new regime, he may find himself on the opening night roster.
After the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff, the Oilers employed a variety of players at centre:
- Eric Belanger: 26 games
- Ryan Smyth: 18 games
- Anton Lander: 11 games
- Chris VandeVelde: 11 games
- Jerred Smithson: 10 games
- Mark Arcobello: one game
- Lennart Petrell: one game
There was a desperate need for centres in Edmonton. Lander got hurt, VandeVelde couldn’t get any traction with the coaches in an extended audition, and Smyth was a fish out of water. Arcobello got just one game.
The Oilers most likely 2013-14 depth chart at centre looks like this:
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- Sam Gagner
- Boyd Gordon
- Anton Lander
Arcobello has three plausible routes to a spot on the opening night roster.
A Ryan Nugent-Hopkins injury. Nugent-Hopkins may be ready to go on opening night, but off-season surgery means he may not be. If he isn’t ready to go, than Sam Gagner becomes the team’s top centre by default, and the team faces some choices: a) bump Gordon into the top-six and Lander into the top-nine, b) shift a player like Taylor Hall to centre, c) add someone via waivers or trade or d) plug in a Mark Arcobello or Andrew Miller on the second line. The latter seems the most likely of these options, and as Arcobello has professional experience he presumably has an edge on Miller.
Win the fourth-line job. This is a more difficult route for Arcobello because not only does he need to compete with Anton Lander and Andrew Miller, but also with Will Acton. Acton, who failed to hit the 20-point mark in the AHL, can’t touch Arcobello scoring-wise but he has familiarity with head coach Dallas Eakins and he could well win recall the way VandeVelde did in 2013 – by being a better fit for a specific role. The Oilers’ fourth-line centre will almost certainly be an integral part of the penalty kill, and Arcobello’s resume in that department is pretty thin.
Win a press box job. Given the Oilers’ depth on defence, it seems likely that the team will carry eight rearguards and 13 forwards. Arcobello adds scoring and versatility (he plays both centre and right wing) but he needs to top a group that includes Mike Brown, Ben Eager, Ryan Hamilton, Toni Rajala and all those centres mentioned earlier. It’s a tall order.
What He Is and It Means
I saw plenty of Arcobello during the NHL lockout, and I like a lot of what he does. He’s reasonably fast, shifty, has good hockey sense and a wealth of offensive ability; he has both a good shot and strong playmaking skills. He also plays a greasy game – he isn’t a sparkplug the way Jordin Tootoo is, but he goes to tough areas and he doesn’t back down from bigger players. The trouble is that he’s not only undersized (5’9”, 165 pounds) but he tended (at least when I watched him) to cheat for offence. Playing with people like Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi against AHL’ers, that’s not a terrible; against NHL’ers it’s liable to be costly.
Because the team seems content to stand pat at centre, he is the best in-house candidate for promotion to a top-six role if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins misses time to start the year. The Oilers’ decision to stand pat is one that could land him in premium minutes; minutes that could serve as the springboard to an NHL career.
Recently around the Nation Network
Rather than criticize the five-year extension Dave Nonis just landed in Toronto, Steve Dangle looks at the general manager’s record and asks commenters to explain what there has earned Nonis his new deal:
Matthew Lombardi traded to Phoenix for a pick. I liked this deal. Cleared cap room. Hooray. Tim Connolly and Mike Komisarek assigned to the Marlies. Good. Joffrey Lupul locked up to a 5-year contract extension. He battled a lot of injuries, which is worrisome for such a long deal, but Lupul bounces back every time, and has put up some crazy points in this city. Holzer also locked up for another two. Claimed Frazer McLaren off waivers. I would have preferred if Nonis claimed Zach Boychuk or Jussi Jokinen off of waivers, but I won’t nitpick. It’s a waiver-wire pickup. Mike Brown and Dave Steckel traded for picks. Fine. Ryan O’Byrne acquired for a pick. Whatever.
Click the link above to read more. Otherwise, feel free to read some of my recent pieces: